Bat Love Songs

The Science Teacher, November 2009 | Go to article overview

Bat Love Songs


Love songs are not only for soft rock stations--they are also used by romantic bats. Researchers at Texas A&M University and The University of Texas at Austin are believed to be the first to decode the mysterious love sounds made by the winged creatures. Their work is published in the journal PloS One.

Researchers Kirsten Bohn and Mike Smotherman in the Department of Biology at Texas A&M, George Pollak at The University of Texas at Austin, and Barbara Schmidt-French from Bat Conservation International (now at Bat World in Mineral Wells, Texas) spent three years analyzing thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bat recordings to understand their meanings. They determined that male bats have distinguishable syllables and phrases that they use as love songs to attract females and in some cases, to warn other males to stay away.

The Austin locations used in the recordings contain up to 1 million bats, while an estimated 100,000 to 250,000 bats are believed to be winging their way around Kyle Field, home of the Texas A&M football team in College Station, and the surrounding athletic complex area where the bat sounds were captured on tape.

"The sounds they make are very difficult for the human ear to pick up," explains Bohn, the lead researcher of the project funded by the National Institutes of Health. "They are at a very high frequency range, but our recording equipment could track them very well," she says. …

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