December 13, 2018

Two Nice Jewish Boys: Episode 116 – The Real Batman

Greater short-nosed fruit bat (Cynopterus sphinx) Photo by Anton17
Let’s do a little thought experiment. Imagine you’re going to your local supermarket. When you leave your house, or your apartment building, do you take a right or a left? Think about the next steps. When do you turn? How do you know when to turn? When do you cross the street? Or if you’re in a car, how many traffic lights do you pass?
Now let me ask you something a little more specific. How many meters exactly is it to your closest supermarket? What cardinal direction is it in exactly?

Unless you’re a robot, those last questions probably stumped you. It turns out that while we’re perhaps the top of the food chain, relative to other animals, we don’t have the most sophisticated sense of direction. Who does?

Bats.

Such a vilified creature. Together with sharks and spiders, bats have been among the most disparaged animals in the entire kingdom for as far back as stories and villains go.

But really, when you think about it, they’re not all that bad. And they might have the answers to a few questions about navigation.

Prof. Yossi Yovel is the head of the Bat Lab for Neuro Ecology at Tel Aviv University and he joins us today to talk about bats and how they get to the supermarket.

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