How bats learn to sing

By Virginia Morell, ScienceNOW Daily News:

Baby Bats Imitate Dad’s Songs

7 October 2009

A few years ago, researchers discovered that the babies of at least one species of bat make babbling sounds, much like human infants. Now, it turns out those babbling baby bats aren’t just mindlessly cooing–they’re imitating the songs of the big guys in their colonies: adult males with territories and harems. Such vocal imitation is rare in the animal kingdom, and it has never been found in nonhuman primates. The discovery should open a new window on the evolution of speech and language, scientists say.

Scientists define complex vocal imitation as the ability to learn a call or song from a tutor–and they regard this talent as a key innovation in the evolution of speech. The rarified list of complex vocal imitators includes birds, elephants, cetaceans, seals, and humans. Researchers had long predicted that bats might also be capable of such imitation because of their extraordinary vocal flexibility; they use echolocation calls to navigate the physical world, for example, and social calls to communicate with their fellow bats.

As behavioral ecologist Mirjam Knörnschild of the University of Ulm in Germany listened to sac-winged bats (Saccopteryx bilineata), she thought she heard complicated vocal imitation.

These insectivorous Costa Rican bats live in harems of one male and as many as eight females, each of which can have one pup annually. The males defend small territories in their day-roosts with unique multiple-syllabic songs. Adult females don’t sing, but their pups (males and females) do plenty of babbling. During such “babbling bouts,” the pups often sing nearly complete renditions of the territorial songs, Knörnschild says, albeit shakier renditions. But were the pups simply combining fragments or actually listening and imitating their complete songs?

The new research report is here.

Oral sex is surprisingly rare in the animal kingdom. Humans do it, of course. As do bonobos, our close relatives. But now researchers have observed the practice for the first time in a non-primate. During intercourse, female short-nosed fruit bats lick the genitals of their partner, a possible ploy to increase copulation time. The discovery suggests there may be a biological advantage to fellatio: here.

Isle of Wight is the most important area for woodland bats in Europe: here.

Bat evolution: here.

In a study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, researchers adjusted animals sounds for body size and metabolic rate and found a surprising similarity of normalized calls throughout the animal kingdom. Karen Hopkin reports: here.

ScienceDaily (Jan. 25, 2010) — Only some bats and toothed whales rely on sophisticated echolocation, in which they emit sonar pulses and process returning echoes, to detect and track down small prey. Now, two new studies in the January 26th issue of Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, show that bats’ and whales’ remarkable ability and the high-frequency hearing it depends on are shared at a much deeper level than anyone would have anticipated — all the way down to the molecular level: here.

Bat tower in Huddersfield, England: here.

Tropical bats of Central and South America regularly eat fermenting fruits and nectar. But they can fly and use their built-in “sonar” just as well while inebriated as while sober—even with blood-alcohol contents that would exceed legal limits for people: here.

2 thoughts on “How bats learn to sing

  1. Did you know that bats help control pests? In fact, some species feast on as many as 1,000 mosquitoes an hour while others dine on thousands of pest beetles and moths a night.

    Here are some other fascinating facts about bats:

    * There are more than 1,000 species of bats in the world. All of these bats make up about a quarter of all mammals in existence.
    * Bats help many plants: Hundreds of plant species rely
    on the pollinating and seed dispersal services of bats including bananas, avocados and mangos.
    * Bats are the most diverse group of mammals: The smallest weighs less than a penny and the largest has a wingspan of up to six feet!
    * Bats are the only mammal that can truly fly.

    Want to attract bats and other small critters to your yard? Join National Wildlife Federation’s nationwide drive to create 150,000 wildlife-friendly yards through our Certified Wildlife Habitat™ program.

    To get started, just complete the easy online application indicating that you have provided what animals need most — food, water, shelter and places to raise their families. Your $20 application fee allows NWF to continue its important work to safeguard our nation’s wildlife and wild places.


  2. Pingback: Good European bats news | Dear Kitty. Some blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.