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J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2011 May;197(5):491-503. doi: 10.1007/s00359-010-0621-6. Epub 2011 Jan 19.

Adaptive behavior for texture discrimination by the free-flying big brown bat, Eptesicus fuscus.

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Department of Psychology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA.


This study examined behavioral strategies for texture discrimination by echolocation in free-flying bats. Big brown bats, Eptesicus fuscus, were trained to discriminate a smooth 16 mm diameter object (S+) from a size-matched textured object (S-), both of which were tethered in random locations in a flight room. The bat's three-dimensional flight path was reconstructed using stereo images from high-speed video recordings, and the bat's sonar vocalizations were recorded for each trial and analyzed off-line. A microphone array permitted reconstruction of the sonar beam pattern, allowing us to study the bat's directional gaze and inspection of the objects. Bats learned the discrimination, but performance varied with S-. In acoustic studies of the objects, the S+ and S- stimuli were ensonified with frequency-modulated sonar pulses. Mean intensity differences between S+ and S- were within 4 dB. Performance data, combined with analyses of echo recordings, suggest that the big brown bat listens to changes in sound spectra from echo to echo to discriminate between objects. Bats adapted their sonar calls as they inspected the stimuli, and their sonar behavior resembled that of animals foraging for insects. Analysis of sonar beam-directing behavior in certain trials clearly showed that the bat sequentially inspected S+ and S-.

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