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Bat Signals: Cracking Bat Codes

Posted November 30, 2015

AFTAU’s “Giving Tuesday” campaign invites you to “Adopt-a-Bat” to support scientific research.


Dr. Yossi Yovel, the noted biologist and physicist, has established one of the world’s foremost labs for the study of bats in the heart of the Tel Aviv University Research Zoo (TAURZ). “In everything I do, and everything I study, I am trying to understand one thing: How animals make decisions in the real world — not in the lab, not in unnatural conditions, but outside, in nature,” said Dr. Yovel, who maintains his own batcave of 60 bats on the TAU campus.

And according to Dr. Yovel, Israel’s “Batman,” insight into bats provides insight into other mammals, humans included. “We want to understand what bats say to each other, how they navigate over hundreds of kilometers, and what they think,” he explained. “This is all part of our attempt to understand where our own behavior comes from, what we share with each other and with other animals, and how all this has changed over time.”

Now nature enthusiasts will have a fun way to support this important research with the”Adopt-a-Bat” campaign from American Friends of Tel Aviv University, scheduled to launch on Giving Tuesday, December 1, 2015. Everyone from six to 60 will have the opportunity to “adopt” one of Dr. Yovel’s little critters and even offer them for unique holiday “gifts.” The Web site at will feature photos, fascinating bat facts, and short “biographies” of the bats, as well as a live feed from Dr. Yovel’s own batcave. The campaign will continue through December 31.

How to track a bat

In the course of Dr. Yovel’s doctoral research, he realized that all existing research on animal behavior had been conducted exclusively in laboratories due to the challenges of monitoring an animal outdoors over long periods of time and over large distances.

“It’s not enough to follow an animal in a controlled environment,” said Dr. Yovel. “You have to monitor its behavior in the wild. Is it interacting with other animals? Did it find food?” Seeking answers to these questions, he developed state-of-the-art miniature tracking devices that can be attached to a bat’s back to track his/her movement and behavior over hundreds, if not thousands, of miles.

“Over the past four years, my lab has developed miniature devices, the smallest in the world, with GPS, audio, video, acceleration, EEG, and other technologies to measure physical and environmental cues that truly allow us to sense the world from a bat’s point of view,” said Dr. Yovel.

“Our bats are under our constant surveillance. We have been able to discover what a bat is doing even when it’s flying more than 3,000 feet above the ground.”

More than 1,200 species of bats account for more than 20 percent of all mammals. These miniature flying mammals are highly sociable and emit special sonar signals to sense their environment. “By recording these sounds in real time, we can tell when they’re attacking prey or when they encounter another bat and how they respond to it,” said Dr. Yovel. “This allows us to reveal how bats work and thrive in a group, which provides radical new insight into the social world of mammals.”

City of bats

Bat colonies, or “bat cities,” are inhabited by thousands of bats who live together for up to 40 years.

“The largest non-human mammalian cities on earth are bat cities — colonies of millions of bats, all of whom roost together, interact with each other, communicate vocally, fly together, and search for food together,” said Dr. Yovel. “We still don’t know much about their social systems. We don’t know if they live in pairs or in small groups or in families — all of this is still completely unknown. We really want to understand if they transfer information the way humans do.

“We are constantly improving our technology,” Dr. Yovel continued. “We are currently working on a device that will also include a camera that will allow us to see what bats see.

“We are also developing a device with electrodes that can be placed on a bat’s head to record its brain activity, even while flying. We are constantly working to improve the devices we already invented, to gain even more insight into the world of bats.”

Source: AFTAU

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