Female bats use baby talk to communicate with their offspring

Hyperaxion Aug 25, 2020

Males, on the other hand, use regular vocalizations, which may be a way to teach their offspring about their group’s vocal signature.

Scientists at the Free University Berlin, Germany, found that mother bats use “baby talk” to communicate with their offspring. The discovery was published on August 14 in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

Female bats use baby talk to communicate with their offspring
Saccopteryx bilineata pup (dark fur color) holds onto its mother (light fur color). (Credit: Michael Stifter).

The researchers focused on a species endemic to Central and South America, Saccopteryx bilineata, whose vast vocal repertoire is used in the elaboration of complex songs for territorial defense and courtship.

During the first three months of life, as the pups begin to vocalize sounds, adult bats respond to them in different ways.

Using sound recordings of the animals’ vocal interactions, the scientists found that mothers interact with the pups while they “babble”, behavior that can be interpreted as positive feedback for the offspring during vocal practice.

“These results show that social feedback is important during vocal development, not only in humans but also in other vocal-learning species like Saccopteryx bilineata,” said Ahana Fernandez, co-author of the study and a post-doctoral researcher at the Natural History Museum in Berlin.

According to the article, female bats change the pitch of their voice when interacting with their offspring. Meanwhile, male bats also communicate with the pups, but in a way that seems to convey the “vocal signature” of their social group.

“Pup isolation calls are acoustically more similar to those of males from the same social group than to those of other males,” explained co-author Mirjam Knörnschild. “These results suggest that adult male vocalizations may serve as guidance for the development of group signatures in pup calls.”

This is the first time that scientists have observed the phenomenon, indicating that communication between bat parents and their offspring is more complex than previously thought.

“I believe that bats are a very promising taxon to investigate key shared features of language, such as the vocal learning ability, and that this study will inspire further studies in the biolinguistics field,” Fernandez said.

Related topics:

Bats

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