Megachiropteran bats (Pteropus) utilize human referential stimuli to locate hidden food

Nathaniel J. Hall, Monique A.R. Udell, Nicole R. Dorey, Allyson L. Walsh, Clive D.L. Wynne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Spontaneous point-following behavior has been considered an indicator of advanced social cognition unique to humans. Recently, it has been suggested that a close evolutionary relationship with humans could result in similar social skills in domesticated species. An alternative view is that the mechanism is not genetic domestication alone but instead a combination of phylogenetic and ontogenetic variables. Here we test the necessity of phylogenetic domestication by investigating the point-following behavior of a captive population of nondomesticated megachiropteran bats (Pteropus pumilus, Pteropus rodricensis, Pteropus conspicillatus, Pteropus vampyrus). Three of five subjects were highly successful in following an unfamiliar human's point to a target location, providing the first empirical evidence of cross-species social referencing in bats. The three successful bats were all born in captivity and socialized to humans early in life, whereas unsuccessful bats were wild-born individuals. This study provides evidence that referential point following is not restricted to domesticated animals and indicates that early experience may be important. Megachiropteran bats may prove to be a useful model for studying social behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)341-346
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Comparative Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Human gestures
  • Megachiropteran bats
  • Social cognition
  • Social referencing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)


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