Bat Story

I heard a story once about a group of scientists who went down to Hill Country in Texas. In that part of Texas they have caves with huge amounts of bats. In one of these deep caves hundreds of thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats roost together. Each evening at dusk they come flowing out of the cave mouth, looking for bugs to eat for the night.

The scientists had asked themselves, how do all these bats pour out of the cave without bashing into each other? How do they figure out how not to run in to the other bats leaving at the same time without injuring themselves or each other?

The scientists set up super high-speed cameras to film the bats as they left the cave over a few nights, then they took the footage and analyzed it with 3D software to model each bat as it moved through space.

You know what they found? The bats run into each other quite a bit.

Bats haven’t found some great way to analyze where their friends are around them and compensate so no-one touches. They’ve just gotten really good at readjusting when someone bumps them off track.

I think about this when I’m trying out new processes and setups at work. Even when everyone’s trying to go in the same direction, there can be a lot of jostling and getting in each other’s way. It’s tempting to make lanes rigid and standardized to ‘solve’ this, but sometimes it’s better just to make it easier to get back on track.

See for yourself: Bat Ballet: Slo-mo footage reveals how thousands of bats emerge from a cave without injury