How Bat Moms Help Puppies Navigate the World
Washington (AFP) – Mothers: They put you in this world, shower you with care, and help you create a mind map of local foraging sites while you’re still a flightless puppy clinging to your nipples.
New study published Wednesday in Current Biology by Israeli researchers sheds light on how mammalian parents are helping their young to learn essential life skills – in this case, Egyptian fruit bats, as they soar through the night avoiding predators and finding figs.
“How animals, including humans, learn behavioral skills is a fundamental question,” Yossi Yovel, a scientist at Tel Aviv University and one of the three authors of the article, told AFP.
“We know animals do amazing things. Bats, for example, travel dozens of kilometers every night for food, and we’ve always wondered how they learn to do this.
Many species of bats carry their young in flight, but carrying a pup has an energy cost of up to 40% of the mother’s weight, and the benefits to the offspring were unclear. It has been hypothesized – but never proven – that this could facilitate learning among young people.
– GPS trackers –
To find out for sure, Yovel and his colleagues placed miniaturized GPS trackers on dozens of mother-pup pairs, as the offspring moved from addiction to independence.
Co-author Aya Goldshtein said they were able to document a separate set of patterns.
“At first the mother and puppy are constantly tied up, they fly together and the mother carries the puppy through the night,” she explained – weeks one to three of the young mammal’s life.
Next comes the “drop-off” phase where mothers transport their young and park them on a tree a few kilometers (miles) from their colony.
At this point, three to ten weeks later, mothers continually return from foraging to watch their young, feed them, and help warm them.
After that, at eight to 10 weeks old, the puppies begin to fly on their own to the same drop-off sites overnight and return to their dormitory before dawn – although their mothers’ work is not quite done, and they continue to register.
“Imagine you have a teenager at home – he’s already a bit independent, but you also want to watch that he doesn’t do something stupid like not come home at the end of the night,” said Goldshtein. Or, when the puppies fail to fly away on their own, their mothers carry them again.
Finally, at 10 weeks and beyond, the puppies use the drop-off sites as starting points for independent exploration of new fruit trees.
Essentially, the sites serve as aids to navigation that help young people to leave and return home.
As a control, the team raised puppies without their mothers and found that they often couldn’t find their way back to their cave until sunrise.
In addition, the sites help mothers find picky youngsters.
“These trees are kind of like meeting points for lost children in amusement parks,” Yovel said.
Landing sites also serve as secondary roosts, and having several helps reduce the puppies’ exposure to predators such as owls.
– The word ‘t’ –
“One of the craziest parts of the article was that the puppy learns when tied upside down,” said co-author Lee Harten. She added that it is possible that “his eyes are open and he is actually collecting information while being passively transferred.”
This in turn suggests that the puppy’s brain reverses visual input into a vertical image.
Harten said she was excited to contribute to the science gap on how animals help their young people learn, especially among bats, which make up a fifth of all mammals on Earth but remain under-studied. .
While the team has shown that bat mothers change what they do when they have children, invest energy in a specific behavior, and their offspring learns from that behavior, they are reluctant to use the word “teaching” in the study, which is seen as anthropomorphism by the scientific community.
“To prove the teaching you have to show intention and that’s very difficult with animals (you can’t just ask them),” Yovel said.
“I would call it teaching, but be careful, they say they put the puppies in a position that allows them to learn.”
© 2021 AFP