Olfactory tracking strategies in a neotropical fruit bat. Academic Article uri icon


  • Many studies have characterized olfactory-tracking behaviors in animals, and it has been proposed that search strategies may be generalizable across a wide range of species. Olfaction is important for fruit- and nectar-feeding bats, but it is uncertain whether existing olfactory search models can predict the strategies of flying mammals that emit echolocation pulses through their nose. Quantitative assessments of how well echolocating bats track and localize odor sources are lacking, so we developed a behavioral assay to characterize the olfactory detection and tracking behavior of crawling northern yellow-shouldered bats (Sturnira parvidens), a common neotropical frugivore. Trained bats were presented with a choice between control and banana-odor-infused solutions in a series of experiments that confirmed that bats are able to locate a reward based on odor cues alone and examined the effect of odor concentration on olfactory search behaviors. Decision distance (the distance from which bats made their change in direction before directly approaching the target) was distinctly bimodal, with an observed peak that coincided with an inflection point in the odor concentration gradient. We observed two main search patterns that are consistent with both serial sampling and learned route-following strategies. These results support the hypothesis that bats can combine klinotaxis with spatial awareness of experimental conditions to locate odor sources, similar to terrestrial mammals. Contrary to existing models, bats did not display prominent head-scanning behaviors during their final approach, which may be due to constraints of nasal-emitted biosonar for orientation.

published proceedings

  • J Exp Biol

altmetric score

  • 13.65

author list (cited authors)

  • Brokaw, A. F., & Smotherman, M.

citation count

  • 5

complete list of authors

  • Brokaw, Alyson F||Smotherman, Michael

publication date

  • February 2021