Do bats know voices of friends they hang out with? (w/ video)

May 07, 2013

Is it possible that mammals have the ability to recognize individuals of the same species, whom they know well, by their voice? A new study has found that even in nocturnal, fast-moving animals such as bats, there is an ability to recognize certain vocal aspects of other bats from their social groups. The study by Hanna Kastein from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hannover, Germany, and her colleagues is published in the Springer journal Animal Cognition.

The authors chose for their study as they are social mammals whose aerial lifestyle favors the use of acoustic cues for both orientation and communication. Body contacts among the in the False Vampire bat, Megaderma lyra, suggest individualized relationships. The authors suggest that the ability to recognize individuals by sound may govern the reunion of groups at night roosts. When isolated bats are observed, they emit calls which result in the bat being joined by members of its usual night roosting group, giving weight to the belief that others must recognize his call.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
A bat reacts to contact call stimulus with a turning to the loudspeaker, placed on the right side. Credit: Hanna Kastein

The researchers used two groups of bats for their study. The groups were kept in separate flight rooms and observed over a minimum of two months. The researchers observed the established body-contact partners and separated bats from their respective groups to evoke the emission of contact calls which they recorded. These calls were then played back to bats which were either body-contact partners, no body-contact partners or unknown bats from another group. The behavior of the experimental bat was measured using the turning reaction of the bat's body towards the emitting the call.

The researchers found that the bats reacted to all single contact calls by turning towards the loudspeaker whether it was from a body-contact, no body-contact or unknown bat. This shows that they did not have a clear preference for calls from body-contact partners under these . The strong response to all the calls could be caused by the high attractiveness of any contact call to temporarily isolated bats.

However, in the set of experiments where bats were repeatedly presented with a call from a known bat until they gave no reaction to the sound and then presented with a different call, they showed a stronger turning response to other partners from their social group compared to a different call from the previously presented bat. This would suggest that the bats make an individual evaluation of the voice.

The researchers conclude: "The experiments provide evidence for identity discrimination based on voice dissimilarity, and may indicate recognition of conspecifics by voice."

Explore further: Bees able to spot which flowers offer best rewards before landing

More information: Kastein, H.B. et al.(2013). Perception of individuality in bat vocal communication: discrimination between, or recognition of, interaction partners? Animal Cognition DOI 10.1007/s10071-013-0628-9

Related Stories

Keeping an ear out for kin

May 18, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Bats can distinguish between the calls of their own and different species with their echolocation calls, report German scientists of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen. ...

Bats recognize the individual voices of other bats

Jun 05, 2009

Bats can use the characteristics of other bats' voices to recognize each other, according to a study by researchers from the University of Tuebingen, Germany and the University of Applied Sciences in Konstanz, Germany. The ...

Why does rain keep bats grounded?

May 05, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- In a new study published in Biology Letters, researcher Christian Voigt from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany details their findings on Sowell’s short-tailed bats a ...

Recommended for you

Why do snakes flick their tongues?

7 hours ago

Many people think a snake's forked tongue is creepy. Every so often, the snake waves it around rapidly, then retracts it. Theories explaining the forked tongues of snakes have been around for thousands of ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

gwrede
3 / 5 (2) May 07, 2013
Is it possible that mammals have the ability to recognize individuals of the same species, whom they know well, by their voice?
Apparently, humans are not mammals. If they were, then this question wouldn't need to be asked.
The researchers conclude: "The experiments provide evidence for identity discrimination based on voice dissimilarity, and may indicate recognition of conspecifics by voice."
Profoundly amazing!

Now seriously!!!! What kind of "scientists" do they let in today? If one insists on researching this, wouldn't it be more fruitful to ask "are there mammals that don't recognize individuals by voice", and if such exist, "are there mammals where the mother doesn't recognize its offspring by voice", and "is there any advantage in _not_ recognizing individuals/litter by voice".

The next time we see these guys they've researched "could it be that dogs navigate by sight also, and not by smell only".
Telekinetic
1 / 5 (1) May 07, 2013
The distinction is that among mammals our massive and fragile ego structure blinds us to what's common in all animals. I recommend a French film called "Rust and Bone" containing a scene where a trainer communes with an Orca. It leaves no doubt that we need to change our mindset.