Ecology

Egyptian Fruit Bats Love To Argue

New research shows that bats aren't just squeaking at each other—those high pitched sounds are pretty advanced. They're also super aggressive.

Related: Animal Communication: What Does "Woof" Mean?

Don't Invade A Bat's Personal Space—They'll Yell At You

You know the blow-up that occurs when your mom mails you a box of Girl Scout cookies, and you catch your college roommate elbow deep in a box of Thin Mints? (Don't worry—she saved you one.) Well, so do they—a 2016 study revealed that bats also argue about food. A lot.

In this study, researchers from Tel Aviv University monitored Egyptian fruit bats for 75 days and analyzed over 15,000 of their vocalizations. The scientists found that "bat vocalizations carry ample information about the identity of the emitter, the context of the call, the behavioral response to the call, and even the call's addressee." First, bats' squeaks aren't random. They're always targeted towards a specific individual. Second, bats are pretty aggressive with one another. Among other things, the bats often argued over food, perching locations, sleeping quarters, and mating attempts. Some bats need to learn a thing or two about personal space—sounds just like college, right?

Related: Dolphins Have Names For Each Other

Can Bats Eavesdrop?

So, how did they discover all of this? The scientists used an algorithm that was originally designed to recognize human voices. According to the study, this readjusted algorithm was able to identify which bats were vocalizing and what they were arguing about with "high accuracy." The study's co-author, Yossi Yovel, elaborates to The Guardian: "We have shown that a big bulk of bat vocalisations that previously were thought to all mean the same thing, something like 'get out of here!' actually contain a lot of information." They could decipher, "to some extent," who the bats were talking to and how that bat responded. The researchers also noticed a marked difference in calls directed not only towards each sex, but even among different individuals. That means, the study says, that bats could theoretically eavesdrop on another bat's conversation and "identify if individual A is addressing individual B or individual C." Eavesdropping bats? What a time to be alive.

Related: There's a Reason Babies Respond To High-Pitched Baby Talk

This study is significant for at least a couple of reasons. First, Egyptian fruit bats join the big leagues of superior animal communicators, including humans and dolphins. Yovel hopes that these types of findings will eventually help scientists understand more about other animal interactions, and even the origins of human communication itself. According to Phys.org, scientists aren't done with this research. Next, they'd like to determine whether the bats are born with this communication ability, or if it's something they learn from others. To achieve this, the researchers plan on attaching tiny microphones on some of the bats before they're reintroduced to the wild. We'll stay tuned.

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Watch And Learn: Our Favorite Videos About Bats

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Written By Curiosity Staff January 5, 2017