Flying bats use serial sampling to locate odour sources. Academic Article uri icon


  • Olfactory tracking generally sacrifices speed for sensitivity, but some fast-moving animals appear surprisingly efficient at foraging by smell. Here, we analysed the olfactory tracking strategies of flying bats foraging for fruit. Fruit- and nectar-feeding bats use odour cues to find food despite the sensory challenges derived from fast flight speeds and echolocation. We trained Jamaican fruit-eating bats (Artibeus jamaicensis) to locate an odour reward and reconstructed their flight paths in three-dimensional space. Results confirmed that bats relied upon olfactory cues to locate a reward. Flight paths revealed a combination of odour- and memory-guided search strategies. During 'inspection flights', bats significantly reduced flight speeds and flew within approximately 6 cm of possible targets to evaluate the presence or absence of the odour cue. This behaviour combined with echolocation explains how bats maximize foraging efficiency while compensating for trade-offs associated with olfactory detection and locomotion.

published proceedings

  • Biol Lett

altmetric score

  • 17.2

author list (cited authors)

  • Brokaw, A. F., Davis, E., Page, R. A., & Smotherman, M.

citation count

  • 8

complete list of authors

  • Brokaw, Alyson F||Davis, Evynn||Page, Rachel A||Smotherman, Michael

publication date

  • October 2021