How Do Swarming Bats Avoid Crashing Into Each Other?
The mammals obey “traffic rules,” using their built-in sonar to track each others’ positions in the air, a new study says.
by Jason Bittel
Under the cover of darkness, swarms of fast-flying bats take to the skies in their nightly quest to find food. But how the mammals manage to maneuver without crashing into each other has been up in the air—until now.
A new study finds that the nocturnal creatures follow a few simple “traffic rules” to avoid midair collisions: The bats first home in on the positions of other bats using their built-in sonar, then follow the flight path of a leader bat—or wingman, as it were.
In new experiments conducted in the United Kingdom, scientists observed the flight patterns of wild Daubenton’s bats (Myotis daubentonii), an insectivore that weighs about as much as an AAA battery and ranges from the British Isles to Japan.
"Sometimes they avoided collision by one of them speeding up and the other slowing down," said Marc Holderied, a behavioral biologist at the U.K.’s University of Bristol., whose study appeared March 26 in the journal PLOS Computational Biology…
(read more: National Geographic)
photo by Paul van Hoof, Buiten-beeld/Minden Pictures/Corbis