Prey detection in trawling insectivorous bats: duckweed affects hunting behaviour in Daubenton's bat, Myotis daubentonii
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Daubenton's bat, a trawling vespertilionid bat species, hunts for insects that fly close to, or rest on, the water surface. During summer, many ponds at which Daubenton's bats hunt become gradually covered with duckweed. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of duckweed cover on the hunting behaviour of Daubenton's bats and on the ultrasound-reflecting properties of the water surface. Our study revealed the following. (1) Daubenton's bat avoids water surfaces covered with duckweed. (2) Prey abundance was related to the number of foraging Daubenton's bats but was independent of duckweed cover. (3) When mealworms were presented among standardized amounts of duckweed to naturally foraging Daubenton's bats, they caught significantly less mealworms when the duckweed cover was increased. (4) Measurements with ultrasonic signals show that a water surface covered with duckweed returns a much stronger background echo at small angles (i.e. parallel to the water surface) compared to an uncovered water surface. It seems likely that a cover of duckweed on the water surface interferes with prey detection by masking the echoes returning from prey. (5) It was relatively difficult for the bats to discriminate small patches of duckweed from mealworms. The proposed discrimination mechanism for this trawling bat species suggests that single duckweed patches can also be mistaken for natural prey by Daubenton's bats.
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