Mother bats use “baby talk” with their offspring in much the same way humans do, scientists have found.
The Sack-winged Bat has a wide vocal repertoire, using different “songs” to woo companions and defend territory.
Scientists recently discovered that females also use a special high-pitched voice to encourage their puppies to start “talking”.
The study also found that the males communicate with the offspring, but in a way of teaching the puppies how to speak the “accent” of the social group to aid development.
Mother bats use “baby talk” with their offspring in much the same way humans do, scientists have found. Large-winged female bats responded to puppies when they ‘babbled’ using a higher tone than they used with adult bats
A team of researchers examined the vocalizations of the large sac-winged bat (Sacopteryx bilineata), a species common in Brazil, Colombia and other parts of Central and South America.
The team included researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, the Museum of Natural History in Berlin, and the Free University of Berlin.
By analyzing recordings of parent-child interactions, they found that mother bats responded to puppies when they “babbled” or began to experience vocalizations, usually in the first few months of their lives.
And like their human counterparts, these mammalian mothers used a different pitch or “color” with their offspring than with other adults.
Male bats also communicated with puppies, said Mirjam Knörnschild, research associate at the Smithsonian, co-author of the article.
Male bats also communicated with puppies, but they seemed determined to pass on the voice signature of their social group.
A sonogram of a babbling of a young sack-winged bat. Puppies have been reported to confuse various calls and sounds as they learn to vocalize. They can mimic a territorial challenge, followed by a few clicks of echolocation and a courteous trill
But they seemed determined to pass on the vocal signature of their social group.
In other words, they wanted to teach their children the local “accent”.
“Puppy isolation calls are acoustically more similar to males of the same social group than to other males,” Knörnschild said.
“These results suggest that adult male vocalizations may serve as a guide for the development of group signatures in puppy calls.”
Researcher Mirjam Knoerschild studies the behavior of bats in Panama. His team’s research suggests that family relationships between bats are more complex than previously thought and may lead to a better understanding of parent-child dynamics in humans.
Sack-winged puppies have been reported to confuse various calls and sounds as they learn to vocalize.
For example, they can mimic a territorial challenge, then emit a few echolocation clicks followed by a courteous trill.
This is the only known example of baby babbling in non-primate mammals.
The study suggests that family relationships between bats are more complex than previously thought and may lead to a better understanding of parent-child dynamics in humans.
The big bat is not the only species to behave in humans. Vampire bats form long-lasting “friendships” and can save hungry roommates on the brink of starvation by regurgitating their blood meals in their mouths.
“These results show that social feedback is important during vocal development, not only in humans but also in other vocal-learning species,” said Ahana Fernandez, researcher at the Natural History Museum.
“I believe that bats are a very promising taxon for studying the main common characteristics of language, such as the ability to voice learning, and that this study will inspire further studies in the field of biolinguistics.”
The big bat is not the only known species to exhibit human behavior. Vampire Bats form long-lasting “friendships” and save hungry roommates from starvation.
If a bat is hungry, its roommate may regurgitate blood in its mouth, a sign of a real bond that can build trust between unrelated vampire bats, researchers say.
“If they starve three nights in a row, there’s a good chance they’ll die,” said environmentalist Gerald Carter of Ohio State University. “For this reason, vampire bats with close social ties can save their weakened mates from the brink.”
Tiny leeches also practice social distancing: if a roommate is sick, they will stop grooming them and keep their distance.
They will, however, continue to share their blood. Preserving the social system as a whole by keeping their friends alive is more important than the risk of contagion, scientists say.