The language of bats: It’s that complex

The language of bats is as interesting as it is unique. With the help of a speech recognition program, researchers have now discovered that the little flutter men communicate with each other in a much more variable way than previously thought.

Bats usually live in large groups in caves – Shutterstock / All-stock-photos

Bats usually live in large groups in caves – Shutterstock / All-stock-photos

Bats communicate a lot, loud and complex. Researchers from Tel Aviv University did the field experiment and overheard a group of bats. What they found amazed scientists around the world.

The experiment: Researchers use machines for people

The researchers around Yossiv Yovel (Tel Aviv) went into a cave for their experiment in order to eavesdrop on a small colony of 22 animals for over 75 days, reports “Die Presse” among other things. They had a speech program with them that was actually developed for human speech. This recognizes patterns on the one hand and behavior and social situations in which the test subjects find themselves on the other. It was possible to examine how the bat group communicates with each other. The result: the cacophony is more than just noise, it is a complex form of entertainment.

Language of the bats: This is what the bats talk about

The interesting thing is that both the voice pitch and the volume of the chatty bats adapt to their respective “interlocutors”. For example, communication with a female differs from that with a male. The researchers were able to roughly divide the content of bat language into four subject areas: sleeping place, food, approach and all kinds of complaints. The animals made different sounds, depending on what they were talking about and with whom. So a complaint that another bat got too close sounds different than a complaint that someone stole your favorite roosting spot on the cave ceiling. Also, communicative sounds related to food are intoned and expressed differently than sounds related to mating. Such variability is not a matter of course in the animal kingdom and has so far only been comparable with monkeys, whales and birds.

The bat is an interesting animal for researchers

Bats have unique abilities and are interesting subjects of study for researchers like Yossiv Yovel. So far, science has also dealt a lot with ultrasonic localization, which bats use to locate their prey when hunting in the air, for example. While sounds are produced with the mouth, echolocation is emitted via the nose.

Sound is also used for communication. Among other things, contact calls are transmitted by sound. The calls, which last only a few milliseconds and can be heard as a short click, are used, among other things, to establish long-distance contact with conspecifics. The individual call consists of several components and is repeated many times and expressed in series, reports “”.

Back to Tel Aviv: The researchers working with Yovel now want to clarify whether the ability to speak is innate or learned, i.e. whether the animals can already learn this linguistic complexity from childhood or only learn it in the course of life in a bat colony.

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