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Abstract

Bats use sonar calls to locate prey and orient in their environment but they may also be used by conspecifics to obtain information about a caller. Statistical analysis of sonar calls provides evidence that variation carries social information about a caller, including individual identity. We hypothesized that little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) would be able to recognize individuals given the potential fitness benefits of doing so. We performed playback trials using a habituation-discrimination design to determine whether little brown bats are able to recognize the individual identity of a caller based on variation in their sonar calls. Each subject bat was played the calls of bat A until they habituated (defined as a 50% decrease from the beginning call rate), then the calls of bat B or a new call sequence of bat A (a control, referred to as bat A’) were played. Each subject received a unique pair of playback recordings (bat A and B) from adult female bats from the same colony (but a different colony from the subject) and the order of trials was randomized. The response measures were habituation time (s) and call rate (calls/s). Within a trial, subjects habituated to calls of bat A and transferred this habituation to the bat A’ sequence. In addition, they increased their call rates when played calls of bat B. Comparing between trials, subjects increased their call rate to the calls of bat B to a greater relative extent than to the calls of bat A’. These results provide the first evidence that bats recognize individual identity of conspecifics (as opposed to discrimination of groups), which has implications for the social interactions of bats.