To truly understand an animal species is to observe its behaviour and social networks in the wild. With new technology described today (April 2) in PLOS Biology, researchers are able to track tiny animals that divide their time between flying around in the sky and huddling together in caves and hollow trees – by attaching little backpacks to them with glue.
These high-tech backpacks, which can communicate with each other and ground-based receivers, provided data for the popular study published on Halloween in 2019 showing that vampire bats developed social bonds in captivity that they maintained in the wild.
The wireless network developed by a team of engineers, computer scientists and biologists contains functions similar to what we find in our smartphones – such as motion detection and Bluetooth-style connectivity – at a fraction of the weight and energy consumption.
Keeping the system automated and lightweight was critical to the success of the network to track adult vampire bats, which weigh between 1 and 1.5 ounces and grow to 3½ inches in length. Using devices that can track larger animals, such as those incorporated into harnesses or necklaces, wouldn’t work for bats or other small species. MORE
Header image: “Backpack” computers used to track small animals’ social behaviour contain sensors about the size of a fingertip. Credit: Simon Ripperger.