Nanosecond bats

While doing some research into neural coding, I came across a reference for a paper that claims bats have nanosecond acuity with echolocation.

Say what? Nanosecond? Apparently so. I can’t really tell how they came to this conclusion by the abstract, but it’s been reliably cited in another paper. I’m definitely going to check this out at the library soon. Exactly how a bat, or indeed any kind of animal, can tell distinguish signals to an accuracy of nanoseconds (those are billionths of a second) is beyond me; simple neurons can only transmit with millisecond accuracy. Just when you start getting blase about biology and how eyes can detect single photons, another amazing thing pops up.

One Reply to “Nanosecond bats”

  1. I remember reading that paper when searching for a topic to write about in my Animal Physiology class. If that experiment’s results are true, it is pretty amazing that bats have that kind of temporal acuity.

    One of the critiques of that paper is that for the bats to have this kind of temporal acuity for their echolocation calls, they also must have an incredibly precise sense of their own position, down to a few micrometers (I think someone estimated it to be about the diameter of a cell). Otherwise, when the bat moves his head a bit forward or backward, he will change the time of arrival of his signal, ruining the temporal acuity. I havent followed the argument since then but it is still pretty cool …

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