April 1, 2014
Ever since I was a little girl, I have had a fascination with bats. They are not my favorite creature –that would be monkeys – but bats definitely hold my interest. Whenever I hike and camp, I am always on the lookout for bats at twilight and into the night. I love to see them swoop down and around, hunting for their meals. I just love to watch them.
As it turns out, a recent study shows something new about bats and their hunting practices. According to a redOrbit article, when bats hunt together, they have a specific call that basically tells the hunting buddies to back off. In other words, bats call dibs on their potential meal. The redOrbit article says, “there is a correlation between these special sounds and changes in the flight behavior of other bats. The authors believe that the call tells other male big brown bats to back off, laying claim to the prey and increasing the chances of a meal for the calling bat.”
Researchers at the University of Maryland Department of Biology conducted the study. The lead author, Genevieve Wright, said, “Despite decades of study, many things about common bat behaviors such as foraging remain mysterious…We were able to study a social call that is likely occurring thousands of times a night all over North America during the summer months, yet had not been described or studied before now.”
This not-so-new “new” social call comes from male big brown bats, which produce a special sound called the frequency-modulated bout (FMB). This FMB then alerts other bats with which the male big brown bat is hunting and foraging that he has identified his meal and the others need to stay away. The researchers noticed the FMB calls and then focused on how the bats changed their flight patterns as well as focused on the connection to male or female bats. As the article explains, “Their analysis revealed sequences of three to four calls – calls that were lower in frequency and longer in duration than normal echolocation pulses. This special call serves as a unique identifier for the bat emitting it, but for reasons not yet currently known to the study authors, it is only the male big brown bats that emit the call.” Additionally, once the FMB call emitted, the male that made it was more likely to attack its prey while the others moved further away from the food source.
This is yet another example of how important it is to continue researching even when we think that we know all we need to know. As Wright said, scientists have been studying the bats for decades, yet it was not until this recent study that they found a communication call that pertained specifically and almost solely to hunting and foraging. It is also really neat to think of the bats communicating dibs on food as well as respecting that call. Nature really is incredible in the way it works. It is so easy for humans to indicate their meals, and here we see that same ease lies even in bats.
Really, this just makes me love bats even more!
Image Credit: Thinkstock