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Bat Navigation

July 18, 2011

Bats have tiny hairs on their wings that help them maneuver in complete darkness.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

A hairy navigation system…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Bats use more than echolocation to navigate in complete darkness. They also have tiny hairs on their wings that help them maneuver through the air. This according to neuroscientist Susanne Sterbing-D’Angelo of the University of Maryland, College Park. She and her team found that by blowing air on these hairs, they could activate regions of the brain associated with the sense of direction. And when they temporarily removed the hairs from the bats’ wings, the nocturnal fliers had a harder time navigating through a simulated forest.

SUSANNE STERBING-D’ANGELO (University of Maryland, College Park):

Their flight is not as maneuverable anymore, so they make wider turns, they speed up because they are probably insecure about their own flight speed because they don’t get the feedback from their own hairs, and so their flight pattern drastically changes.

HIRSHON:

She says that understanding how the hairs work could help engineers design more stable aircraft. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS the science society.