Bats are masters of echolocation, a skill that allows them to identify objects around them using sound.
Scientists are just starting to understand the anatomical hallmarks of two major bat lineages — a factor that could teach us how echolocation evolved.
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They found distinct differences between the ear structure of bats in two main branches of the family tree: Yinpterochiroptera (“Yin”) and Yangochiroptera (“Yang”) bats.
In Yin bats, a thick-walled canal encases the spiral ganglion, which is a cluster of nerve cells.
This is a similar structure to human ears, as well as other mammal species.
The spiral ganglion doesn’t have to pack into an enclosed space, allowing nerve cells to organize and connect to the brain in distinct ways.
Bruce Patterson/Field Museum
Most echolocating bat species — 82 percent — come under the Yang branch.
This suggests that their ear anatomy may have helped diversify bat species.
The existence of such drastically different anatomy could also shed light on bat evolution.
“These are different ways of achieving the same goal. It’s like these two types of bats are speaking different dialects of a language.”