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Bats Hunt While Being Adorable

It’s my Friday fluffy piece and today I want to share something about bats.

When it comes to Gothic horror, spooky scenes, and Halloween decorations bats are a staple, flapping through the night. But, aside from the more infamous Vampires bats that lap up the blood of their victims or the adorable fruit bats, how much do we know about these denizens of the night sky? It seems that there is still a lot more to learn about theses mammals and researchers from Johns Hopkins have discovered one more piece in how the bats sense their environment.

A study recently published by the open access journal PLOS Biology, Melville J. Wohlgemuth noticed the bats were doing something adorable, cocking their heads to the sides and raising and lowering their eyes, just like his pet pug. "I wanted to know when bats were doing this and why. It seemed to occur as bats were targeting prey, and that turns out to be the case."

The Bats use a sonar-like echolocation to hunt for prey screeching out a high pitched sound and listening for the returning sound to find a tasty insect. This is not new, but this is the first time that Wohlgemuth and his team were able to show how the head and ear movements contribute to the hunt.

How did they do this? First they trained bats to sit on a platform and track meal worms attached to fishing line (which in itself seems rather entertaining). The team then put reflective markers on top of the head and ears of the bats and tracked the positions of those makers.

They found small head movements and a flattening and perking of the ears that was imperceptible to the naked eye. And the movements were correlated to the bat’s vocalization when tracking prey.

Co-author Cynthia F. Moss, a Johns Hopkins professor and neuroscientist said, by studying these movements, we as humans can get insight into how movement helps animals sense their environment.”

So next time you see some bats fluttering through the sky, think of them and realize that we are still learning and that they are doing some of the cutest things in the dark.

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