Virginia Tech

ScienceShot: Flexible Ears Help Bats Tune In

Bats navigate by bouncing sounds off of objects (an ability known as echolocation), so perhaps it's no surprise that their ears work a lot like mini-radar dishes. Using a high-speed camera (tracking reflective landmarks on the bat's ear, as seen above) and 3D digital modeling, researchers have shown that bats bend their ears in various directions to listen for the echoes of their ultrasonic calls. Upright ears capture high-quality echoes from objects ahead, while ears bent downward and backward hear echoes from more directions but not as well. Reporting online this week in Physical Review Letters, the team suggests that bats tune their hearing to specific tasks. Bent ears are better for sweeping the area for potential prey, such as moths, or for predators like owls, while upright ears could zero in on prey when bats dive for an attack.

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