ScienceDaily: Frog-eating bats can recognize ringtones that indicate a food reward four years later.


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Some skills can be learned quickly, and we may not need to re-learn them. Studies on learning and long-term memories in the wild tend to focus on just a few animal species. In a new publication, Current BiologySmithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), researchers share the first long-term memory report in bat-eating frogs.Trachops Cirrhosus).

M. May Dixon (lead author of the paper), a biologist who recently completed her doctorate at the University of Texas at Austin. She says “frog-eating Bats are an excellent emerging organism for studying cognitive & sensory ecology.”

Because bats are able to retain and learn information, when hunting frogs as their main prey, they don’t need to constantly relearn which frog calls signify whether a frog should be eaten, poisonous or too large to carry.

Dixon and his colleagues trained 49 wild bats how to respond to cellphone ringstones through speakers. Two of the tones offered bait fish rewards to bats that responded, but they weren’t rewarded for responding to the third tone. They quickly learned how to fly to the speaker when the ringtones indicated they wanted a snack and not to respond to any other tones. The bats were microchipped, and then released into Panama’s Soberania National Park.

Researchers captured eight bats that had been trained between one and four year later. They played the experimental sounds again and the bats responded even after four years. The experiment also included 17 untrained frog eating bats, which twitched their ears attentively but didn’t fly to the sounds.

Dixon, a STRI intern working with Patricia Jones, a PhD student, was trying to determine if bats could recognize novel tones. She noticed that other bats were responding to the same tones and she could find out if they could.

The ringtones chosen by the researchers for the experiments, the pinging of an incoming SMS alert and the beep indicating that a car is unlocked, were clearly human-generated. However, they sounded froglike enough to attract bats.

Researchers played the extinguished tone, which the bats learn to ignore, to the captured bats. Six of the eight trained bats approached the one that was being played.

Dixon said that it was possible that they remembered the extinguished sound but that enough time had passed that they decided to go back and check it again. It’s possible they didn’t know the difference between the ringtones. The extinguished sound was similar enough to the rewarded one to make them check it out. It’s sort of like generalizing memory.”

To ensure the bats weren’t responding to every sound, she used a pure tone. Most of the bats only twitched their eyes to the sound, but did not fly to it.

This experiment raises additional questions about memory in these bats, as well as the metabolic cost associated with remembering.

She explains that she is interested in memory capacity and how it affects animals. What ecological conditions can select for different lengths of memory, what is important to remember, and what is important to forget. It is extremely difficult to study long-term memories because it is a complex topic. It’s not always possible to test memory in animals in captivity. Rachel Page, STRI staff scientist, and co-author, wants her to visit the BatLab again to learn more.

“STRI has been the base for so much research with bats. They have an extensive database of frog-eating bats and their experiments with them. This means that if you catch a bat that’s been captured before, you have all its history. She says that there are very few places on the planet where you can get such detailed information. “I found out that bats are complex and fascinating creatures. I used to like them but didn’t think they were interesting. But now, I love them.



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