Classification of insects by echolocating greater horseshoe bats

Summary

Echolocating greater horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum) detect insects by concentrating on the characteristic amplitude- and frequency modulation pattern fluttering insects impose on the returning echoes. This study shows that horseshoe bats can also further analyse insect echoes and thus recognize and categorize the kind of insect they are echolocating.

Four greater horseshoe bats were trained in a twoalternative forced-choice procedure to choose the echo of one particular insect species turning its side towards the bat (Fig. 1). The bats were able to discriminate with over 90% correct choices between the reward-positive echo and the echoes of other insect species all fluttering with exactly the same wingbeat rate (Fig. 4).

When the angular orientation of the reward-positive insect was changed (Fig. 2), the bats still preferred these unknown echoes over echoes from other insect species (Fig. 5) without any further training. Because the untrained bats did not show any prey preference, this indicates that the bats were able to perform an aspect-anglein-dependent classification of insects.

Finally we tested what parameters in the echo were responsible for species recognition. It turned out that the bats especially used the small echo-modulations in between glints as a source of information (Fig. 7). Neither the amplitudenor the frequencymodulation of the echoes alone was sufficient for recognition of the insect species (Fig. 8). Bats performed a pattern recognition task based on complex computations of several acoustic parameters, an ability which might be termed cognitive.

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Abbreviations

AM :

amplitude modulation

CF :

constant frequency

FM :

frequency modulation

S+:

positive stimulus

S-:

negative stimulus

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von der Emde, G., Schnitzler, HU. Classification of insects by echolocating greater horseshoe bats. J Comp Physiol A 167, 423–430 (1990). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00192577

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Key words

  • Bats
  • Echolocation
  • Prey detection
  • Pattern recognition
  • Concept formation