Recently, I wrote a post on how bats used sound to recognize individual prey items based on breathing patterns. Today, Science Daily has a story on bats using sound to transmit cultural information.
The above is a picture of a fringe-lipped bat eating a frog. According to Science Daily:
To observe the cultural transmission of this new information in the bats, Page and Ryan captured wild fringe-lipped bats and tested them in large outdoor flight cages. They played the calls of large, poisonous cane toads through speakers and gave the bats that approached the speaker a reward of raw fish. Once a bat learned to associate the cane toad call with food, they became “tutor” bats.
NaÃ¯ve bats were then allowed to observe the tutor bats. The naÃ¯ve bats, on average, learned to associate the new frog call with food after observing their tutor five times. Page and Ryan believe the naÃ¯ve bat observes the tutor’s location through echolocation and then listens to it chewing on its prey.
“There have been many of studies on diet and learning, but most have been conducted with laboratory animals,” said Page. “This study is exciting because we are taking wild bats, bringing them into an outdoor flight cage and within a matter of days observing social learning and innovative foraging behavior.
Leaving aside the aspect of “culture” the study is interesting because of the implications for conservation:
“This study has interesting conservation implications,” said Page. “For a predator that is specialized to feed on a group of animals facing catastrophic extinctions (for example, frogs), it is important to know what type of response these bats might show to drastic changes in prey abundance and composition. Our study suggests that at least in terms of foraging ecology, frog-eating bats could rapidly track fluctuations in the prey community.”
Finally, there are evolutionary implications. As I mentioned, the researchers actually trained the bats to respond to the canebrake toad and remark:
“It is stunning that these bats show such rapid changes in their responses to prey cues, to the extent that they will respond to a stimulus that they should be under strong selective pressure to avoid in the wild[emphasis mine- afarensis],” said Page. “This result is very unexpected and shows an extreme degree of flexibility.”
The research is being published in Current Biology.
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