March 1, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Cool Bat Tricks

Bats put on a dazzling air show.  Science Daily revealed that the acrobatic mammals have magnetic instruments.  Somehow, they are able to use the magnetite in their cells as navigational aids.  Scientists from Leeds University and Princeton conducted experiments on large brown bats.  They were able to steer the bats off course by issuing magnetic pulses.  They surmised that the magnetite gives the animals not only animal magnetism but an internal compass to help them navigate.  Interestingly, humans possess magnetite but still manage to get lost.
    Meanwhile, in Sweden, scientists put bats in a wind tunnel to figure out how they hover.  Live Science reported that “bats employ the same, swirling ‘bubbles’ of air called vortexes that many insects use to stay afloat in mid-air.”  This allows the heavier-than-air animals to nearly float as they negotiate in hard-to-get places, such as when sipping nectar from a flower.  The vortices seem glued to the underside of the wing, adapting the wing shape in complex ways.  Even so, bats flap their wings nearly 15 times per second in these situations.

Neither article mentioned evolution.  Design science can take credit for these science projects – typical of most real research about observable things.  The author of the second paper is working on developing a bat model he can incorporate into robots.  Designers like to imitate sleek design, not fat chance.

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Categories: Amazing Facts, Mammals

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