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Bats Recognize Individual Voices

A pallas' long-tongued bat feeding within a wind tunnel. Scientists used the nectar to lure bats into a hover.
(Image: © F.T. Muijres, Lund University)

Bats hunt in groups in the dark using a form of sonar called echolocation to find snatch bugs out of the air.

Scientists have not known how bats recognize their buddies, in order to stay together, and also avoid creating interference between their echolocation calls. The screech of a bat is louder than a rock concert. A study last year found that bats actually shut their traps for microseconds so they can hear the leader and take direction.

Now researchers say greater mouse-eared bats can recognize individual bat voices.

The researchers first tested the ability of four greater mouse-eared bats to distinguish between the echolocation calls of other bats. After observing that the bats learned to discriminate the voices of other bats, the scientists programmed a computer model that reproduces the recognition behaviour of the bats. Analysis of the model suggests that the signals contain information specific to each individual.

The study was published June 5 in the open-access journal PLoS Computational Biology.