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Bats are 3-D cartographers

Special cells in the mammal’s brain chart its path as it flies

10:43am, April 18, 2013
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Holy flying fruit bats!

Neurons called place cells help Egyptian fruit bats, Rousettus aegyptiacus, navigate three-dimensional spaces, researchers report April 18 in Science.

By implanting electrodes in the bats’ brains and strapping on lightweight wireless recording devices to their heads, researchers measured neural activity as the animals flew up, down and around a room. Individual place cells perked up when bats zoomed through particular spaces, report Michael Yartsev and Nachum Ulanovsky of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.

Just as spots on a map represent locations, each place cell represented a specific area of the room. Like cartographers charting new lands on paper, bats sketch mental maps of spaces they fly through. But unlike cartographers — or rats, which researchers have studied walking across flat surfaces — bats use their place cells to move through three dimensions.

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