Bats sing lovesongs to mates

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODPOSTER - JBJ RE­PORTER

MALE bats ap­pear to be the best ro­man­tic singers in the an­i­mal world: they have learned to make sounds that at­tract fe­males, but once they have their at­ten­tion, they change their tune – lit­er­ally.

They then pro­duce more creative sounds to en­ter­tain the fe­males, re­searchers at Texas A&M Univer­sity found.

Prof Mike Smoth­er­man, a top ex­pert on bats, and his col­leagues from Florida In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity stud­ied bat singing.

Over three years, the team made record­ings of thou­sands of Mex­i­can free-tailed bats around the Texas univer­sity cam­pus and found male bats are truly croon­ers. Their songs are aimed at at­tract­ing fe­males to their roosts dur­ing mat­ing sea­son, and they must do so quickly be­cause bats tend to be in a hurry. “Th­ese bats can fly very

fast, al­most 10m a sec­ond,” says Smoth­er­man. “They only have about one-tenth of a sec­ond to get the fe­males’ at­ten­tion.

“They use a very spe­cific song to grab the fe­male’s at­ten­tion as she flies by. Once a bat joins their roost, the males mix up their songs, pos­si­bly to keep the fe­males en­ter­tained long enough for mat­ing to be­gin.”

The free-tailed bats are unique be­cause they can quickly re­or­gan­ise their phrases to cre­ate dif­fer­ent singing styles, Smoth­er­man says. “The males can be very creative as they sing,” he adds. Bats aren’t the only type of an­i­mal to use such love songs, Smoth­er­man notes. The free-tailed bat’s singing is very sim­i­lar to some of the most tal­ented song­birds. Among mam­mals, how­ever, singing is rare, he notes.

“Most other an­i­mals rely upon vis­ual cues to at­tract a mate, such as birds hav­ing brightly coloured feath­ers,” he adds. “With bats, it’s all about sounds.”

Bat singing ap­pears to work, at least in Texas. The state is home to some of the largest bat colonies in the world, with tens of mil­lions of bats wing­ing through Texas at sun­set. Each bat can eat im­mense quan­ti­ties of in­sects as they try to find a home un­der bridges, in caves, barns or nu­mer­ous other places that pro­vide a dark place in which to re­side.

The Mex­i­can free-tailed bat is one of the most com­mon bat species, mea­sur­ing about 10cm in length with a wing­span of about 50cm.

Dark brown in colour with rounded ears, the bats are fre­quently seen in the south­west US but are also com­mon in cen­tral and South Amer­ica.

POWER OF WINGS: Like birds, flight has al­lowed bats to travel and set­tle in all cor­ners of the Earth.

FOXY: In­dian Fly­ing Fox bat

HEAD-FIRST: A Malayan bat hangs on a tree branch.

BAT COLONY: Bats of­ten share their home with thou­sands or even mil­lions of other bats.

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