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Are you teaching me, or am I just guessing?

August 01, 2011

Are you teaching me, or am I just guessing?

If Teague is lucky, a Trachops will hear the chorus, try to capture a frog, and get caught in the process

Dusk falls over Soberanía National Park and Teague O'Mara (in the photo) opens his mistnets. He is netting to capture Trachops cirrhosus –-the fringe-lipped bat. To lure this species into the net he broadcasts a chorus of túngara frogs–- this bat's preferred prey.

If Teague is lucky, a Trachops will hear the chorus, try to capture a frog, and get caught in the process.

Teague is a STRI intern working with STRI staff scientist Rachel Page, studying the ontogeny of bat foraging behavior. With a background in the development of foraging behavior in ring-tailed lemurs, Teague brings expertise from his doctoral research in Madagascar to his current studies in Panama.

Teague is asking how Trachops acquire their foraging repertoires. Adult bats use frog mating calls to assess the quality of their prey.

Are young bats initially bold, responding to the calls of palatable and poisonous species alike?

Or do young begin life more cautiously, gradually learning from their mothers what calls signal species that are safe to eat?

By testing the bats he captures in a large outdoor flight cage, Teague will ask if mothers actively teach their young. There is already good evidence for opportunistic social learning in this species.

Exploring how juveniles learn and how mothers teach will shed light on our understanding of the social dynamics of foraging behavior in nature.

Story: Rachel Page
Edited by M Alvarado & ML Calderon
Photos: MA Guerra

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