Bats sing lovesongs to mates
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.