Monday, December 19, 2005

Fly by Wire

No, this is no political rant. This is something that is actually intrinsically interesting.

Ever since my sister studied bats, I, too, have been fascinated by the creatures, mostly because of their amazing aeronautical ability via employment of sonar and ecolocation.

A bat once got into my house and was flying around. I watched, fascinted by the exacting, silent flight. Unlike a bird, this creature made no audible sound as it moved, somewhat frantically, looking for a way out. I would have thought a screen might present some problems for it, but apparently not, because it would fly right up to a screen, stop short of collision and veer back around, up and down stair ways, in and out of rooms. Not once did the bat come close to colliding with anything, and this was within a rather constrained set of corridors, rooms and stairwells. I doubt most birds would have managed such navigation problems as elegantly.

Anyway, I finally snagged the creature in a towel, took it ouside and let it go. I imagined the little guy was a bit freaked, but I was thankful for the dazzling show it had put on. I've never seen anything quite like it.

Well, it looks like they have other mechansims at work that help them figure out what is going on. Amazing beasts.
John Zook, a neurobiologist from Ohio University who conducted the new study, found that touch-sensitive receptors on the bats’ wings help them maintain altitude and catch insects in midair.

Zook believes the touch-receptors work together with echolocation to make bats better, more accurate nocturnal hunters. It’s thought that echolocation helps bats detect their surroundings, while the touch-sensitive receptors help them stick to their flight path and snag prey.

The receptor cells give bats constant feedback about their wing positions. When a bat’s wing isn’t properly angled or curved during flight, air passing next to the wing can become turbulent. Merkel cells help bats remain aerodynamically efficient by alerting them when their wing position or curve is incorrect, preventing the creatures from stalling in midair.

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