Young Bats Learn Bat “Dialects” from Their Nestmates

by Brie Stimson October 31, 2017


Halloween Repeating Pattern with Bats Flying in Front of the Moon

Young bats are just like toddlers! Baby bats apparently learn specific “dialects” spoken by their own colonies even when the dialect differs from the bat “mother tongue,” according to research from Tel Aviv University.

The study offers insight into the evolutionary origins of language acquisition skills and question the uniqueness of the skill in humans, according to researchers at the School of Zoology and the Sagol School of Neuroscience at TAU’s Faculty of Life Sciences.

“The ability to learn vocalizations from others is extremely important for speech acquisition in humans, but it’s believed to be rare among animals,” Dr. Yovel says. Reseachers had believed that this is what makes human language unique. “The most common animal models for this ‘vocal learning’ are songbirds, which learn songs from specific tutors. Bird researchers usually emphasize that a bird learns to sing from one parent, but we have shown that bats listen and learn from an entire colony of several hundred bats, not just from their parents. In other words, young bats pick up the dialect vocalized by their surrounding roost-mates.”

The researchers raised 14 bat pups with their mothers in there different colonies for a year into their adulthood. They played three different subsets from a collection of bat recordings during that time.

“The pups were raised with their mothers and could communicate with them. But even though they were exposed to their mothers’ ‘normal’ dialect, each group instead developed a dialect resembling the one of the crowd it was exposed to through our recordings,” Dr. Prat says.

“The difference between the vocalizations of the mother bat and those of the colony are akin to a London accent and, say, a Scottish accent,” Dr. Yovel explains. “The pups heard their mothers’ ‘London’ dialect, but also heard the ‘Scottish’ dialect mimicked by many dozens of ‘Scottish’ bats. The pups eventually adopted a dialect that was more similar to the local ‘Scottish’ dialect than to the ‘London’ accent of their mothers.”

They will next examine how the acquisition of new dialect affects their ability to integrate into a foreign colony.


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