Many bats are specialized to detect and capture arthropods from vegetation. As echoes from sitting arthropods and vegetation background overlap strongly, it is difficult for those bats to detect prey by echolocation alone. Within the largest genus of bats, Myotis, at least three species from different sub-clades show a characteristic fringe of hairs on the trailing edge of their uropatagium. All three species are capable of gleaning arthropods from vegetation with this tail membrane. Phylogenetic analyses strongly suggest that these specializations evolved convergently. Therefore, one can hypothesize that the hairs at the rim of the tail membrane have an important tactile and/or mechanical function for gleaning prey from substrate. To assess this question, we used light microscopic techniques to investigate the morphology and innervation of the bristle-like hair fringe, and for comparison, the structure of sensory mystacial vibrissae in Myotis nattereri. The results revealed that the fringe possesses two types of hair: larger guard hairs and smaller vellus hairs. Both hair types are well innervated underneath their sebaceous glands. They are encircled by a piloneural complex, which functions as a stretch and tension receptor. Although the bristle-like hairs are clearly not vibrissal follicle-sinus-complexes, their position, morphology and innervation strongly support a sensory function for prey detection and capture. An additional mechanical function, e.g., brushing prey off substrate, is plausible.
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