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While hunting for dinner, the big brown bat must hone in on flitting insects and keep track of its surroundings to avoid crashing into them. Now, scientists have taken a peek at what’s going on in these bats’ brains while they swoop and dive. They identified a brain region that helps the animals map where objects are in relation to their own bodies, and saw that individual brain cells changed their behavior while the bats focused their attention on a particular object. The findings, published April 10 in the journal eLife, could help us understand certain aspects of attention issues in people as well as how bats and animals navigate while on the move.
Bats are a good starting point to learn about how the brain manages this trick, because their echolocation cries can reveal exactly what they are paying attention to while sizing up their surroundings. “Every time it vocalizes, it’s as if it’s shining a flashlight beam upon the world,” says coauthor Melville Wohlgemuth, a behavioral neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. A bat can adjust this beam of sonar when it wants to get a better “look” at a particular item. By squeaking more quickly, the bat captures more detailed information.
“We’ve seen for decades that they change their...
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