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J Exp Biol. 2003 Jan;206(Pt 1):93-104.

Prey-capture success revealed by echolocation signals in pipistrelle bats (Pipistrellus pygmaeus).

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Centre for Sound Communication, Institute of Biology, University of Southern Denmark, Odense Campusvej 55, DK-5230 Odense M, Denmark.


Three Pipistrellus pygmaeus bats were trained to capture prey on the wing while flying in the laboratory. The bats' capture behaviour and capture success were determined and correlated with acoustic analyses of post-buzz echolocation signals. Three acoustic parameters revealed capture success: in case of success, post-buzz pauses (pbP) were longer, interpulse intervals (IPI) of the post-buzz signals were longer and, most notably, the spectra of the echolocation signals showed a number of notches that were absent after unsuccessful attempts. If the bats touched the prey without seizing it, pbP was significantly increased, but by less than was seen following a successful capture. Thus, acoustic recordings can be used to determine the outcome of a capture attempt with 72-75% correct using IPI or pbP, and with 78% correct using notches. Even more trials (>85%) were classified correctly by using the first canonical discriminant factor from principal component analysis combining the three parameters. Four types of prey were used, of 7-22 mm length and 7-240 mg mass. After successful captures, interpulse intervals, post-buzz pause and notches all depended on prey type, but not in a way that was systematically related to size, indicating that acoustic parameters cannot reveal prey size.

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