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J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2003 May;189(5):327-36. Epub 2003 Apr 24.

Object recognition by echolocation: a nectar-feeding bat exploiting the flowers of a rain forest vine.

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Max-Planck-Institut für Verhaltensphysiologie, 82319 Seewiesen, Germany.


In the bat-pollinated vine Mucuna holtonii only the first visit to a flower is rewarded with a substantial amount of nectar, which is released when a bat lands on the flower and triggers an explosion mechanism. During later visits the bats receive only small amounts of nectar. Nevertheless, the inflorescences as a whole remain attractive, since further buds successively open during the night. Nectar-feeding bats Glossophaga commissarisi selectively visit unexploded, "virgin" flowers. They can discriminate buds, virgin and exploded flowers using echolocation. In field experiments bats exploited virgin flowers, the vexillum of which had been replaced by a same-sized triple mirror or by an artificial vexillum. Such flowers were frequently inspected, but not as often exploited as natural flowers. In two-alternative-forced-choice experiments the bats learned to discriminate between replicas of the vexillum and triple mirrors. The recognition distance was between 15 and 50 cm. Echoes of the three flowering stages differ in their spectral composition, which changes in dependence of the sound incidence angle in a characteristic way. We conclude that glossophagine bats are able to recognize small motionless structures like flowers and to accurately adjust their landing manoeuvres by using their echolocation system alone.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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