Frog-eating bats trust self first when hunting

The animals listen to cues from fellow bats when own resources fail

FROG FEAST Frog-eating bats like this one share information about where to find food.

© Patricia Jones

When frogs croak, the fringe-lipped bat, Trachops cirrhosus, listens. The bats use the sounds to track and feed on amphibians and to share dining tips with neighbors.

In a new study, Patricia Jones of the University of Texas at Austin and colleagues trained a few frog-eating bats to associate a cell phone ringtone with food. Some of the bats reliably got food when they heard the phone ring. Others did not. The bats that failed to get food using their own cues paid more attention to new ones that their fellow mammals shared.

Social learning becomes much more important if a bat is unsuccessful at finding food, the scientists report October 22 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Observing how bats forage alone and together may help scientists understand the way new hunting behaviors spread through animal populations. It may also give insight to animals’ potential for cultivating culture, the authors suggest.

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