According to a recent study, bats use a behavior called “leapfrogging” to return to their roost and protect themselves from predators.
Researchers have discovered that bats follow a “leapfrogging” pattern when returning to their roosts after a night of hunting. This strategy allows them to make the most of their time out and avoid potential predators.
Researchers from Cardiff University and the University of Sussex created a mathematical representation using “trajectory data” to monitor the flight patterns of greater horseshoe bats in Devon. Their goal was to determine how these animals interact with their surroundings during nighttime.
The researchers discovered that bats, which usually roost in caves or lofts, disperse in a one-mile radius for the first hour and a half to two hours after leaving their roosts before slowly returning home.
Researchers observed that the bat furthest from the periphery did not seem to desire being there and instead jumped over the closest bat on its return to the roost.
According to Thomas Woolley, the primary writer and a senior lecturer at Cardiff University’s mathematics department, the bat that was furthest away did not seem to willingly be in that spot. This resulted in a chain of movement as the bat hopped back towards the roost.
The team’s research, published in the Bulletin of Mathematical Biology, proposes that the bat furthest from the group would realize it is at a higher risk of being preyed upon and begin to return to safety. The following bat in the group would follow suit, and so on. According to the study, a bat would be able to determine its position as the furthest from the group if it does not detect calls coming from all directions.
Before, it was believed that the area where most foraging takes place, known as the “core sustenance zone,” had a radius of 2km (1.25 miles). However, the team’s model indicates that it is slightly smaller, at 1.8km.
Fiona Mathews, a professor of environmental biology at the University of Sussex, collaborated with a team of ecologists and volunteers to compile the trajectory data. The bats were captured in a humane manner and equipped with small radio transmitters on their backs to track their flight patterns.
Mathews stated that the greater horseshoe bats are at risk in Europe. While some efforts have been made to safeguard their homes, there is still limited knowledge on how to preserve their hunting grounds due to the difficulty of tracking these swift creatures in low light conditions. They are capable of surpassing the speed of a car on a rural road, making it a challenging task.
Bats, along with bees, ants, rooks, and penguins, have a tendency to gather closely together when resting. However, they must disperse from this area in order to avoid competing for food.
“Having the ability to simulate these nightly movements will aid us in preserving their hunting areas. Furthermore, it will provide insight into their potential for repopulating regions where they have disappeared, such as the south-east of England.”
The article acknowledges that there are constraints to its findings. Bats do not consistently return to a specific location for rest each day, thus further research is needed to expand the results to encompass multiple roosting sites. Other bat species may have varying behaviors and even bats of the same species may have different flight patterns during certain seasons.