Media & Education
News Room

September 2010, Volume 8, Issue 9

Bats in the News

Bats with Accents

Bats, it turns out, have distinct regional accents just as humans do, The Age newspaper in Melbourne, Australia, reports. “Bats in different regions have different calls,” scientist Brad Law said. “You may have the same species on the north and the south coast, but they’ll have different calls.”

Law, of the Forest Science Centre in New South Wales, was the leader of a team that studied some 4,000 echolocation calls recorded from bats of about 30 species that live in New South Wales, The Age said.

Scientists had long suspected bats had distinctive regional dialects, but until now it had never been proven in the field, Law said. The team found, the newspaper wrote, that some bats at Eden, on the state’s south coast, for example, sounded quite different from bats of the same species at Batemans Bay, less than 125 miles (200 kilometers) north.

Bats use the biosonar system called echolocation to navigate and hunt in darkness. They emit a series of high-frequency sounds, then analyze the echoes that bounce back from objects in their path.

“When we go out in the forest,” Law told the newspaper, “we can record thousands of calls a night, all of which are unknown. If we weren’t able to run them through the automated key, it could take months to identify them.”

As part of the research, The Age said, the team spent months capturing bats at night, identifying each one and recording their calls. To distinguish one species’ call from another, the researchers developed an automated identification key for each region of the state.

The reason for these differences in bat calls is still unknown, The Age said, but Law suspects it may result from regional differences in their diet, since bats use the calls to locate and capture prey.

'”Some bats feed on tiny mosquitoes, which means they use a very high-frequency call [to locate them], while others feed on beetles or big moths and use a lower-frequency call,” he said.

The researchers are now using their call-identification process to survey bats across the state and determine their population and conservation status.

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