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J Exp Biol. 2005 Dec;208(Pt 23):4399-410.

Echolocating bats can use acoustic landmarks for spatial orientation.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, USA.


We investigated the echolocating bat's use of an acoustic landmark for orientation in a complex environment with no visual information. Three bats of the species Eptesicus fuscus were trained to fly through a hole in a mist net to receive a food reward on the other side. In all experiments, the vocal behavior of the bats was recorded simultaneously using a high-speed video recording system, allowing for a 3D reconstruction of the flight path. We ran three types of experiments, with different spatial relations between the landmark and net hole. In the first experiment, the bat's behavior was studied in test trials with the landmark placed 10 cm to the left of the net opening; between test trials, the positions of the net opening and landmark were moved, but the spatial relationship between the two remained fixed. With the landmark adjacent to the net opening, the bats quickly found the hole. In the second experiment, bats were tested in control trials in which the landmark was moved independently of the hole, breaking the established spatial relationship between the two. In control trials the bats repeatedly crashed into the net next to the landmark, and inspected the area around it. In the final experiment, the landmark was removed altogether from the set-up. Here the bats spent more time per trial searching for the net opening with an increased number of inspections as well as crashes into the net. However, over the course of a test day without the landmark, bats reduced the time spent per trial and focused inspections and crashes around the hole. The behavioral data show for the first time that the echolocating bat can learn to rely on an acoustic landmark to guide spatial orientation.

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