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"Bat Signal" -- The Discovery Files

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A new University of Maryland study finds that echolocating bats use a strategy to track and catch erratically moving insects that is much like the system used by some guided missles to intercept evasive targets and is different from the way humans and some animals track moving objects. The researchers speculate that evolutionary pressure to catch flying insects as quickly as possible may have pushed the bat to adopt its fast food technique.

Credit: NSF/Clear Channel Communications/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

"Bat"-tle plan...

I'm Bob Karson with "The Discovery Files" -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

SOUND: (bat lab sonar)

You're listening to one of the world's most advanced tracking systems for location and interception of evasive moving targets. It's not coming from some military bunker. It's in the bat lab at the University of Maryland. The tracking system belongs to a big brown bat.

We've long known that bats use sonar for direction finding, but new research seems to indicate that the bat is instinctively solving complex geometric problems to most effectively track and capture erratically moving insects.

SOUND: (missile launch)

These computations are similar to those developed by military engineers working on guided missile systems. The bat not only hones in on its target, it actually seems to predict where the moving target is most likely to go and computes the fastest possible point of interception.

When it comes to rocket science, it looks like bats had it worked out before scientists did.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! To learn more, visit

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