How Bats Use Echolocation to Find Water

Hello again! My last semester was demanding, but I did not forget about this blog of mine. Instead, I have a lineup of several articles, reviews, short writings, and interesting animal behavior finds to be posted in the next couple of months.

Second, I recognize that I am receiving a lot of new traffic to the blog. Welcome visitors! You are welcome to subscribe to the blog using the fancy RSS feed stuff on the right-hand sidebar. I would appreciate that so much. Now on to the good stuff:

Water is crucial to life on Earth, to state the obvious. So crucial, that over 126,000 known species rely on constant access to freshwater habitats to survive. Those lucky enough to stray from the geographic restraints of fresh water habitats often have life cycles that reflect adaptation to the moisture content of their surroundings (e.g., cacti and burrowing toads). Needless to say, the adaptation to recognize water for a terrestrial species will generally be adaptive, whether to find it or to protect against it. In animals, this will often manifest as a behavior, or movement, typical to the species (e.g., cats drinking water).

A bit of hullabaloo occurred last November with the release of a paper in Nature Communications (which I first read about here) with strong evidence for an innate (not learned) recognition of a habitat feature by an animal. More shocking, these animals are mammalian. The paper by Stefan Greif and Bj√∂rn Siemers found strong evidence in fifteen different species, that bats recognize water as acoustically flat surfaces. Clearly ethology territory. They reached this conclusion by presenting bats with a flat metal sheet, and were surprised to find that bats would attempt to lick the surface of the metal panel, much like how they would drink from a flat body of water.

I could dryly summarize the rest of the paper (an open access article which can be found here), but Nature Communications has already provided a brief, fascinating video with incredible high speed photography that does a better job than I ever could:

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