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Bat Voices

September 8, 2008

Bats emit unique calls to distinguish themselves from the group.


When bats get personal…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Bats navigate by emitting high-pitched sounds and listening for the echoes. But that prompted Tony Skura of Nome, Alaska, to ask how bats recognize their own echo with lots of other noisy bats around. We consulted Michael Smotherman, a biologist at Texas A&M University who studies Mexican free-tailed bats. He says the bats distinguish themselves by emitting groups of pulses in personalized patterns.

Rather than emit a single pulse, the bat may go doo doo doo, doo doo doo, doo doo doo. And they’ll be listening for a pattern of echoes that follows that sequence.

He says adding that pattern makes it much easier for the bats to recognize their own echo. If you’ve got a science question, call us at 1-800-WHY-IS-IT. If we use it on the air, you’ll get a free Science Update mug. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.