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“The World is Upside Down”: What Bats Talk About


Ignorant as men notoriously are, it is only now that we are realizing that animals have complex communication systems. Yossi Yovel, a neuroecologist at Tel Aviv University, recently led a study that deciphered the banter and squeals of Egyptian fruit bats.

More importantly, his research, published in Scientific Reports shows the fruit bat is one of only a few animals known to direct its calls at specific individuals in a colony. Moreover, the calls of many social animals may be more detailed than was previously thought.

“To find out what bats are talking about, Yovel and his colleagues monitored 22 captive Egyptian fruit bats (Rousettus aegyptiacus) around the clock for 75 days,” says an article in Nature magazine. Then they matched a voice-recognition program that analyzed 15,000 vocalizations to different social interactions captured by video, including fights between two bats over food.

Researchers thus decoded the language. More than sixty percent of the bats’ cries falls into four categories: “squabbling over food, jostling over position in their sleeping cluster, protesting over mating attempts and arguing when perched in close proximity to each other.”

As we see, they aren’t too different from humans. If you have any doubt, just go over your recent experience at the holiday dinner and the aftermath.

Human uniqueness among other animals probably stems from his complex speech and his capacity for abstract thought. It was the ability to gather around a higher, abstract idea, that enabled him to prevail over other species, including kin like the Neanderthal.

At the same time, as only now we are emerging from the dark in regards to animal communication, it is safe to assume that our grasp on the life of other creatures that share the planet with us is weak at best. For such a long time, we have assumed the noises they make were mere sounds of fear or alarm. This only speaks to our ignorance. Recent research suggests that evolution not only has not stopped, but that proceeds much faster than we thought. The last word has not been said yet. Even when it comes to bat speech.


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