When you see bats flying around at night, they seem silent. But “even though we can’t hear them, bats are actually very loud in their calls,” says Te Jones. They are screaming sounds that are too high-pitched for your ears.
Jones is a graduate student in Psychological & Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. She studies how bats “see” in the dark using echolocation. As a bat flies, it emits a beam of sound from its mouth or nose, then listens for the echoes bouncing off objects. Jones says a bat can aim the beam in different directions. If an insect flies through the beam, a bat can tell the insect’s size and location, along with how fast it is flying and in what direction. As part of Cynthia Moss’s research group at Johns Hopkins, she works with other scientists and students to study how bats use their echolocation superpower. Their experiments take place in a special room called—what else?—the Batlab.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE BATLAB?
It’s basically a collection of rooms that are covered floor-to-ceiling with foam that dampens sounds, so that bats aren’t getting these really strong echoes from, say, a concrete floor or really hard wall. And then there are some microphones spread out around the room. They are all fixed to the wall, and they cover the entire four walls. No matter where the bat happens to be pointing its head, we always have a microphone that can be picking up the call.
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