Size discrimination of hollow hemispheres by echolocation in a nectar feeding bat

Ralph Simon, Marc W. Holderied, Otto Von Helversen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Nectar feeding bats use echolocation to find their flowers in the dense growth of tropical rainforests, and such flowers have evolved acoustic features that make their echo more conspicuous to their pollinators. To shed light on the sensory and cognitive basis of echoacoustic object recognition we conducted a size discrimination experiment with the nectarivorous bat Glossophaga soricina and compared the bats' behavioural performance with the echoic features of the training objects. We chose a simple geometric form, the hollow hemisphere, as the training object because of its resemblance to the bell-shaped concave form of many bat flowers, as well as its special acoustic qualities. The hemispheres showed a characteristic echo pattern, which was constant over a wide range of angles of sound incidence. We found systematic size-dependent changes in the echo's temporal and spectral pattern as well as in amplitude. Bats were simultaneously confronted with seven different sizes of hollow hemispheres presented from their concave sides. Visits to one particular size were rewarded with sugar water, while we recorded the frequency of visits to the unrewarded hemispheres. We found that: (1) bats learned to discriminate between hemispheres of different size with ease; (2) the minimum size difference for discrimination was a constant percentage of the hemisphere's size (Weber fraction: approximately 16% of the radius); (3) the comparison of behavioural data and impulse response measurements of the objects' echoes yielded discrimination thresholds for mean intensity differences (1.3 dB), the temporal pattern (3-22 μs) and the change of spectral notch frequency (approximately 16%). We discuss the advantages of discrimination in the frequency and/or time domain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3599-3609
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2006


  • Echoes of hollow hemispheres
  • Flower-visiting bat
  • Object discrimination by echolocation
  • Weber-Fechner law


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