Testing the “fasting while foraging” hypothesis: Effects of recent feeding on plasma metabolite concentrations in little brown bats (myotis lucifugus)

Dylan E. Baloun, Quinn M.R. Webber, Liam P. McGuire, Justin G. Boyles, Anuraag Shrivastav, Craig K.R. Willis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Plasma metabolite concentrations can be used to understand nutritional status and foraging behavior across ecological contexts including prehibernation fattening, migration refueling, and variation in foraging habitat quality. Generally, high plasma concentrations of the ketone β-hydroxybutyrate, a product of fat catabolism, indicate fasting, while triglycerides indicate recent feeding and fat accumulation. In recent studies of insectivorous bats, triglyceride concentration increased after feeding as expected, but β-hydroxybutyrate also unexpectedly increased rather than decreased. An aerial-hawking foraging strategy is energetically demanding, and thus it has been hypothesized that foraging by insectivorous bats requires catabolism of stored fat. We tested this hypothesis by quantifying plasma β-hydroxybutyrate and triglyceride concentration following feeding in little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) that were temporarily housed in individual cages to prevent flight. We provided a fixed amount of food and collected blood samples at different intervals after feeding to produce variation in plasma metabolite concentrations. Plasma triglyceride concentration responded as predicted, but similar to previous studies and contrary to our prediction, when flight was eliminated plasma β-hydroxybutyrate concentration responded similarly to triglyceride. Thus, it is unlikely that the unexpected plasma β-hydroxybutyrate patterns observed in previous studies were related to flight. The mechanism underlying this unexpected pattern remains unknown, but the response has been consistent in all studies to date. Thus, plasma metabolite analysis provides an effective tool for studies of nutritional status, although more work is needed to understand why insectivorous bats respond differently than other taxa.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)373-380
Number of pages8
JournalPhysiological and Biochemical Zoology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2019


  • Aerial hawking
  • Chiroptera
  • Feeding rate
  • Hibernation energetics
  • Insectivore
  • Triglyceride
  • White-nose syndrome
  • β-hydroxybutyrate


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