Migratory bats are sensitive to magnetic inclination changes during the compass calibration period

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The Earth's magnetic field is used as a navigational cue by many animals. For mammals, however, there are few data to show that navigation ability relies on sensing the natural magnetic field. In night-time migrating bats, experiments demonstrating a role for the solar azimuth at sunset in the calibration of the orientation system suggest that the magnetic field is a candidate for their compass. Here, we investigated how an altered magnetic field at sunset changes the nocturnal orientation of the bat Pipistrellus pygmaeus. We exposed bats to either the natural magnetic field, a horizontally shifted field (120°), or the same shifted field combined with a reversal of the natural value of inclination (70° to -70°). We later released the bats and found that the take-off orientation differed among all treatments. Bats that were exposed to the 120° shift were unimodally oriented northwards in contrast to controls which exhibited a bimodal north-south distribution. Surprisingly, the orientation of bats exposed to both a 120° shift and reverse inclination was indistinguishable from a uniform distribution. These results suggest that these migratory bats calibrate the magnetic field at sunset, and for the first time, they show that bats are sensitive to the angle of magnetic inclination.


  • Animals, Chiroptera, Orientation, Calibration, Sunlight, Mammals, Magnetic Fields, Animal Migration
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20230181
JournalBiology letters
Issue number11
Early online dateNov 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Nov 2023

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