Contributed by Marielle Grenade-Willis
Bats are animals cloaked in a lot of social stigma and dark symbolism. As nocturnal creatures however, their capabilities are some of the most impressive of the mammalian order in that they can use echolocation to create images of their surroundings, as well as magnetoreception to harmonize travel with the earth’s magnetic field. More recently, scientists have been able to identify and understand how a bat’s neuroanatomical structure is influenced by auditory signals which affect body awareness and positioning. In primates, the “superior colliculus” is a midbrain system that is generally responsible for negotiating the relationship between the layout of space and a subtle shift in attention toward a specific spot in that space (such as in the case of directed eye movement). This new study found that the auditory clicks emitted by the bat were correlated with neural firing in the superior colliculus, meaning that bats “adapted the system used for vision for other mammals to enable them to catch flying insects in darkness.” To be able to convert 120 clicks per second to a visual layout of their environment demonstrates just how incredible this mammal is. Bats are a keystone species integral to the regeneration of ecosystems through seed dispersal for tree species, pollination of commercial plants used by humans, and as a controller of insect populations.