Clever wild bats can remember sounds for years: scientists

Long-term memory not only allows people to learn skills that rarely need to be relearned, such as riding a bicycle, some bats may also have this ability.

According to a study published in Current biologyscientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), located in Panama, have found that tropical frog-eating bats (Trachops cirrhosis) consistently responded to ringtones that rewarded them with delicious treats.

Biologist M. May Dixon from the University of Texas said of the subject of the study: “Frog-eating bats are an excellent emerging model organism for studying cognitive and sensory ecology.”

Bats remember sounds
The researchers used loudspeakers to play ringtones for the bats and placed a baitfish on the loudspeaker. Hearing the reward ringtones, the trained bats constantly flew towards the speaker to collect their delicious reward.
Andrew Quitmeyer/Zenger

Dixon, who recently completed a doctorate, said that for frogs, “learning plays an important role in their lives.”

Also known as fringe-lipped bats, their range extends from southern Mexico and Central America to Bolivia and Brazil. Medium in size, they eat not only frogs, but also lizards, insects, fruits and even other bats.

While most related studies on learning and long-term memory in nature focus on a few animal species, this study is the first report on long-term memory in frog-eating bats.

“I am interested in memory capacity in animals and what causes long-term or short-term memories, what ecological conditions select for different memory lengths, what is important to remember and forget,” she said.

“But studying long-term memory is very difficult, because it takes a long time by definition. And testing memory in animals in captivity, while more convenient, is not necessarily representative of what animals can remember in nature.”

The frog-eating bat eats a frog
The frog-eating bat uses learning and long-term memory to listen to the cries of frogs and tell the difference between those that are poisonous and those that are good to eat.
Marcos Guerra/Zenger

The smart bats in the study not only have the ability to learn, but they also retain the information they use when hunting their favorite prey, so they don’t have to relearn which frog calls indicate which. frog is poisonous, too big or just right. to eat.

In the study, the research team trained 49 wild bats in Panama’s Soberanía National Park to respond to cellphone ringtones played through loudspeakers. Two of the ringtones rewarded them each time with fish on the speakerphone, while three other ringtones offered no reward.

The crafty bats quickly learned which speaker would offer a treat and not respond to the others.

They were then microchipped and released into the wild.

The researchers took up eight of the trained bats one to four years later, after determining that the bats recognized and responded to ringing rewards years after training.

As a control, the study included 17 untrained frog-eating bats: they only wiggled their ears, but didn’t fly to ringtones.

The ringtones used in the study were clearly human-generated so bats wouldn’t hear them by chance in the wild, but sounded enough like frog calls to attract winged mammals.

When the researchers played off tones (the non-reward tones that the bats have learned to ignore), they observed six of the eight trained bats approaching.

The study of bats by Mr. May Dixon
Lead author Dr. May Dixon performed an experiment to investigate the role of long-term memory in the cognitive and sensory abilities of frog-eating bats.
Sean Mattson/Zenger

Dixon said: “It’s possible they remember the sound off, but enough time has passed that they thought to check it one more time.”

Dixon added: “Or it’s possible they don’t remember the exact difference between the ringtones, and that the off sound was close enough to the rewarded sound that they decided to check that out too. Kind of like a generalization of memory.”

For the researchers, the study raises questions about how bats and other animals remember, and the metabolic costs of memory.

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and its BatLab are part of the Smithsonian Institution, based in Washington D.C.

This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.

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