By: Wendy Langhans
As I recall, the engineering lab at Atari was a noisy place: a cacophony of pings, squeals, beeps, buzzes and whoops. But I could always tell how close the player was to hitting the target (or being hit as the target) by the rhythm of the beeping. The faster the rhythm, the closer the target. And recently, I learned that what was true for “Centipede” and “Asteroids” is also true for bats. Although we can’t hear them, bats make noises when they hunt.
To locate insects, bats use a technique known as echolocation, which is similar to sonar. Because they usually hunt at night, we do not see them. Because they emit high pitched calls in the ultrasonic range (20 to 200 kilohertz), we do not hear them. Without the use of specialized observation equipment, we humans are as “as blind as a bat”. But once we were able to look and listen, scientists noticed something interesting: as bats search for, approach and “lock in” on their insect target, the duration of each beep decreases and the call rate of their beeping increases. To see (and hear) an infrared and slo-mo video of a bat hunting a moth, click here.
According to this article from the University of Maryland, the bat hunt has three phases:
Phase 1. The “Search” phase: longer pulses at a rate of 5-10/second.
Phase 2. The “Approach” phase: shorter pulses at a rate of 20-40/second. This is when the bat found something.
Phase 3. The “Terminal Buzz”: shortest pulses at a rate of 100-200/second. This is when the bat “locks in” on target
As I watched (and listened) to this BBC video of bats hunting, it seemed as if I was back in Atari’s engineering lab. I wonder if someone will ever make a video arcade game involving bats? Of course, they’d have to slow down the action so we could play it. A bat’s superfast vocal muscles, the muscles that power their “Terminal Buzz”, are “capable of contractions about 100 times faster than our normal body muscles and up to 20 times faster than human’s fastest muscles: those that move our eyes.”
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Trail Maintenance Schedule. Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org for time and place.
Wednesday mornings, May 2, 9, 16, 23 & 30.
Saturday mornings, May 12 & 26.
May 5, 8-10 AM at East/Rice Canyon. Botanical Picky Eaters. It’s not broccoli that they are refusing to eat, but wildflowers sure can be stubborn with their food! Explore how the physical setting affects what grows there. Meet outside the front gate. For directions and a trail map, click here.
May 12, 10 AM – 3 PM. Open House and Family Festival at Placerita Canyon. The usually serene Placerita Canyon State Park will bustle with activity when the county of Los Angeles and the Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates host a big open house and family festival. Placerita Canyon Nature Center, 19152 Placerita Canyon Road, www.placerita.org.
May 19, 8-9 AM at Towsley Canyon. Busy Birds of May. May is a busy month for birds; time for the youngsters to test their wings and leave the nest. Beginning birders are welcom. Binoculars optional. Meet at Towsley Canyon’s front parking lot. For directions and a trail map, click here.
New trail maps available. If you’d like to explore a bit on your own, the City of Santa Clarita has just created a new website with trail maps for our local open spaces: http://hikesantaclarita.com/.
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