Israeli study: Bat babies navigate like kids walking to school

Just like human children learn to walk to school and back home, bat pups learn to navigate while flying, Israeli researchers find.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

A new Israeli study revealed previously unknown information about the development of baby bats, known as pups, finding that they learn to navigate while flying in similar ways to how human children learn to walk to school and back home.

Tel Aviv University researchers Professor Yossi Yovel, Dr. Aya Goldshtein, and Dr. Lee Harten worked on the study, which was recently published in the journal Current Biology.

According to a statement from TAU, the researchers attached tiny GPS devices to bat mothers and pups, which tracked their locations, as well as another device that recorded their wing movements and speeds.

“Many animals must become independent at a very young age in order to survive. For flying animals, the ability to navigate on their own to sources of food is an essential aspect of independence,” said Prof. Yovel in a statement.

Because the learning curve is so steep for flying creatures, in which the process could lead to a swift fall and death, the way that animals learn to fly is particularly interesting.

At first, Dr. Harten wrote, “we discovered that…mothers carry their pups on their bodies all night long.”

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But after a few weeks, “the mother carries her pup to a specific tree, located no more than a kilometer from the cave, which serves as a kind of ‘nursery.’ Here she leaves it, sometimes with a friend, and flies on to the food source, later collecting her pup on her way back home.”

Eventually, the pup “starts flying to nearby trees, constantly expanding its circles of navigation. We believe that the ‘nursery’ tree is chosen by the mother as a starting point, an anchor not too far from home, from which the pup can navigate to other places. The tree also serves as a meeting place for mother and pup if the little one happens to get lost.”

“It is important to note that the process whereby the young learn from their parents can save evolution millions of years,” added Yovel.

“Human children rely extensively on this type of learning, and the present study shows that animals do the same.”