By a whisker: the sensory role of vibrissae in hovering flight in nectarivorous bats

Eran Amichai*, David B. Boerma, Rachel A. Page, Sharon M. Swartz, Hannah M. Ter Hofstede

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Whiskers are important tactile structures widely used across mammals for a variety of sensory functions, but it is not known how bats - representing about a fifth of all extant mammal species - use them. Nectar-eating bats typically have long vibrissae (long, stiff hairs) arranged in a forward-facing brush-like formation that is not present in most non-nectarivorous bats. They also commonly use a unique flight strategy to access their food - hovering flight. Here we investigated whether these species use their vibrissae to optimize their feeding by assisting fine flight control. We used behavioural experiments to test if bats' flight trajectory into the flower changed after vibrissa removal, and phylogenetic comparative methods to test whether vibrissa length is related to nectarivory. We found that bat flight trajectory was altered after vibrissae removal and that nectarivorous bats possess longer vibrissae than non-nectivorous species, providing evidence of an additional source of information in bats' diverse sensory toolkit.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20222085
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1992
StatePublished - 8 Feb 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • bats
  • hovering flight
  • kinematics
  • nectarivory
  • sensory ecology
  • vibrissae


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