Posted on in Integrative Biology

Hungry Bats Spy on Neighbors to Find a Good Meal

Illustration by Jenna Luecke.

Before checking out a new restaurant or food cart, people turn to Yelp! or rely on old-fashioned reviews from friends and family. Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have found that bats do something similar, but only when their original dining source takes a turn for the worse.

The fringe-lipped bat, Trachops cirrhosus, hunts for frogs by homing in on the frogs' own mating calls.

Graduate student Patricia Jones and colleagues, working in Panama, were able to train these bats to approach different sounds, such as cell phone ringtones, provided the new sounds were associated with food. They found that as long as a particular ringtone remains a reliable food source, a bat sticks with the status quo, enjoying its bounty and ignoring what all the other bats are doing. However, if the food becomes harder to get, the equivalent of a poor meal in a restaurant, the bat will spy on nearby bats that have been trained to respond to a different ringtone. If a neighbor is stuffing its face, the bat will start approaching the new ringtone to look for a meal.

The use of such social information by animals has been the subject of extensive research. However, this study is one of only a few to examine the conditions that actually lead an animal to take advantage of social information to learn new behaviors.

For more information, contact: Patricia Jones, patricia.jones@utexas.edu, 617-721-9357; Steve Franklin, College of Natural Sciences Communications, sefranklin@mail.utexas.edu, 512-232-3692

Steve is the marketing coordinator for the College of Natural Sciences. He has a BS in Ecology from Evergreen State College and a BS in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior from UT Austin.

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Guest Thursday, April 24, 2014