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Volume 14, Number 1

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Interaction of vestibular, echolocation, and visual modalities guiding flight by the big brown bat, Eptesicus fuscus
Full Text Featured Article (284 KB)
pp. 17 - 32
Seth S. Horowitz, Cheryl A. Cheney, James A. Simmons

The big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus) is an aerial-feeding insectivorous species that relies on echolocation to avoid obstacles and to detect flying insects. Spatial perception in the dark using echolocation challenges the vestibular system to function without substantial visual input for orientation. IR thermal video recordings show the complexity of bat flights in the field and suggest a highly dynamic role for the vestibular system in orientation and flight control. To examine this role, we carried out laboratory studies of flight behavior under illuminated and dark conditions in both static and rotating obstacle tests while administering heavy water (D2O) to impair vestibular inputs. Eptesicus carried out complex maneuvers through both fixed arrays of wires and a rotating obstacle array using both vision and echolocation, or when guided by echolocation alone. When treated with D2O in combination with lack of visual cues, bats showed considerable decrements in performance. These data indicate that big brown bats use both vision and echolocation to provide spatial registration for head position information generated by the vestibular system.

©2004 Journal of Vestibular Research All Rights Reserved.