The Original Bat-Signals: Bats Can Recognize Individual Voices

By Eliza Strickland | June 8, 2009 9:00 am

batScientists have long been impressed with bats’ echolocation calls, the brief bursts of sound that bounce off surrounding objects and allow the bats to navigate in the dark. But now researchers have found a new level of sophistication in those cries. A new study of greater mouse-eared bats proves that bats can distinguish between the calls of different individual bats. Researchers say this could explain how they remain in a group when flying at high speeds in darkness, and how they avoid interference with one another’s echo-location calls [The Guardian].

In the study, published in the journal PLoS Computational Biology, lead researcher Yossi Yovel played the recordings of bat cries back to his test subjects. “Each bat was assigned two others it had to distinguish between,” Dr Yovel explained. “So we trained bat A on a platform, playing a sound from bat B on one side and from bat C on the other. He had crawl to where the ‘correct’ sound was coming from” [BBC News]. For a correct answer, the bat was rewarded with a mealworm.

Yovel says that it’s not clear how the bats tell the difference between one cry and the next. “If you think of this in comparison with humans, it’s like being able to recognise a person just by listening to the same one-syllable yell in different voices. The bats learned the voice by listening to hundreds of very short ‘yells’, but they then were able to recognise an individual based on one single yell” [BBC News], he says.

Related Content:
The Loom: How to Be a Bat [with high-speed video]
80beats: Scientists Glean Secrets of Flight From Birds, Bats, and Bugs
80beats: Space Heaters in Caves Could Protect Bats From Mysterious Disease
80beats: Bats Are Dying From White Nose Mold, But Researchers Don’t Know Why

Image: flickr / Bistosavage

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World
  • http://clubneko.net Nick

    Ahem. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. These critters have had just as much time to evolve as we have. We just have different ways of going about our ‘intelligence’ in dealing with the reality we’ve been thrust into.

    Any DNA-based critter that’s survived this long hasn’t done so because they’re dumb and just lucky. We’re ending up looking like the dumb ones because we’re going “Hey, wait, these animals that have based their entire existence on their hearing can learn each other’s voices!”

  • jo

    Have your friend or family member yell, “HEY!”……….I bet you can recognize who it was, same thing…….lots of exposure allows them to discriminate individual calls.

  • http://twitter.com/astradaemon Ursula

    Both Nick and Jo make a good point. I don’t understand why people continue to be surprised by evolution.

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