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Penn researcher helps identify 'superfast' muscles responsible for bat echolocation
Date:9/29/2011

PHILADELPHIA As nocturnal animals, bats rely echolocation to navigate and hunt prey. By bouncing sound waves off objects, including the bugs that are their main diet, bats can produce an accurate representation of their environment in total darkness. Now, researchers at the University of Southern Denmark and the University of Pennsylvania have shown that this amazing ability is enabled by a physical trait never before seen in mammals: so-called "superfast" muscles.

The work was conducted by Coen Elemans, John Ratcliffe and Lasse Jakobsen of Denmark, along with Andrew Mead, a graduate student in the Department of Biology in Penn's School of Arts and Science.

Their findings will appear in the journal Science.

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. Mead, who studies muscle physiology, and Elemans, who studies neuroscience and biomechanics, had previously collaborated in studying how superfast muscles help birds sing.

"Superfast muscles were previously known only from the sound-producing organs of rattlesnakes, birds and several fish," Elemans said. "Now we have discovered them in mammals for the first time, suggesting that these muscles once thought extraordinary are more common than previously believed."

With vision, animals receive a more-or-less continuous stream of information about the world. With echolocation, however, bats only get a snapshot of their environment with each call and echo, requiring them to make rapid successions of calls. When hunting a flying insect that can quickly move in any direction, bats need the most rapid updates on their prey's position in the instant before the catch. At this critical point, bats produce what is known as the "terminal buzz," where they make as many as 190 calls per second.

"Bat researchers assumed tha
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Contact: Evan Lerner
elerner@upenn.edu
215-573-6604
University of Pennsylvania
Source:Eurekalert

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