Experts decode bat love songs

August 25, 2009 9:55:44 AM PDT
The summer sounds of love in Texas come from some furry creatures. Experts at the University of Texas in Austin and Texas A&M in College Station say they have decoded the courtship songs of Mexican free-tailed bats.

The Austin American-Statesman reported Tuesday that the findings were published this week in an online journal of the Public Library of Science.

Millions of the bats have made a bridge in Austin their home, while others prefer caves and barns throughout the Southwest. A wild colony has been noted at Kyle Field in College Station.

"Bat songs have specific syllable types that are used to construct phrases, and the phrases are put together in specific orders to build the songs," said lead researcher Kirsten Bohn, of A&M.

"Buzzes are almost always at the end of songs. But a bat can do chirp-trill-buzz, and then the same bat can do chirp-trill, chirp-trill, chirp-trill-buzz. So you have this variability," she said.

George Pollak, a neurobiologist at UT whose $375,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health underwrote the project, said the courtship calls of bats are similar.

"Whether or not it's absolutely innate, whether it requires learning to be expressed or is partially learned, it makes no difference," Pollak said. "The point is here you have a mammal that has among the richest and most sophisticated communication repertoires of any animal we know of, save man."

The researchers recorded the high-pitched songs for analysis.

Bats could prove to be good models for understanding the neural pathways involved in stuttering, certain effects of Parkinson's disease and other disorders, according to Bohn.

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