Wednesday 23 April, 2014

Buzzing bats use rare ‘superfast’ muscles to hunt their prey in the dark

Published On: Fri, Sep 30th, 2011 | Wildlife | By BioNews

Ever wondered how bats use their amazing echolocation abilities to navigate and hunt prey at night? Well, they owe their success to a set of rare ‘superfast’ muscles in their larynx.

The discovery by researchers at the Universities of Southern Denmark and Pennsylvania makes bats the first known mammal with such muscles, previously seen only in certain snakes and songbirds.

Superfast muscles are capable of contraction about 100 times faster than typical body muscles and as much as 20 times faster than the fastest human muscles, those that control eye movement.

Lead author Coen Elemans of the University of Southern Denmark and his colleagues studied how the bats create the terminal buzz.

“Superfast muscles were previously known only from the sound-producing organs of rattlesnakes, birds and several fish,” said Elemans.

“Now we have discovered them in mammals for the first time, suggesting that these muscles – once thought extraordinary – are more common than previously believed,” he added.

The researchers also did an experiment in which bats hunted insects in a chamber wired with microphones in order to determine the theoretical maximum frequency for a buzz without overlapping echoes, which could confuse the bat.

“We determined the power the muscles can deliver, much like how you measure a car’s performance,” Elemans said.

“We were surprised to see that bats have the superfast muscle type and can power movements up to 190 times per second, but also that it is actually the muscles that limit the maximum call rate during the buzz.”

The researchers plan to further study of superfast muscles from a molecular and genetic perspective.

The findings will appear in the journal Science. Ever wondered how bats use their amazing echolocation abilities to navigate and hunt prey at night? Well, they owe their success to a set of rare ‘superfast’ muscles in their larynx.

The discovery by researchers at the Universities of Southern Denmark and Pennsylvania makes bats the first known mammal with such muscles, previously seen only in certain snakes and songbirds.

Superfast muscles are capable of contraction about 100 times faster than typical body muscles and as much as 20 times faster than the fastest human muscles, those that control eye movement.

Lead author Coen Elemans of the University of Southern Denmark and his colleagues studied how the bats create the terminal buzz.

“Superfast muscles were previously known only from the sound-producing organs of rattlesnakes, birds and several fish,” said Elemans.

“Now we have discovered them in mammals for the first time, suggesting that these muscles – once thought extraordinary – are more common than previously believed,” he added.

The researchers also did an experiment in which bats hunted insects in a chamber wired with microphones in order to determine the theoretical maximum frequency for a buzz without overlapping echoes, which could confuse the bat.

“We determined the power the muscles can deliver, much like how you measure a car’s performance,” Elemans said.

“We were surprised to see that bats have the superfast muscle type and can power movements up to 190 times per second, but also that it is actually the muscles that limit the maximum call rate during the buzz.”

The researchers plan to further study of superfast muscles from a molecular and genetic perspective.

The findings will appear in the journal Science.

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