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US scientists decode bats' courtship songs

US scientists have decoded love sounds made by romantic bats after spending three years listening to thousands of Mexican free-tailed bat recordings to understand their meaning, local media reported yesterday.

The findings by experts at the University of Texas and Texas A&M were published this week in an online journal of the Public Library of Science, according to the newspaper Austin American-Statesman.

After three years' study, researchers determined that male bats have very distinguishable syllables and phrases that they use as love songs to attract females and in some cases, to warn other males to stay away.

"The sounds they make are very difficult for the human ear to pick up," said lead researcher Kirsten Bohn. "They are at a very high frequency range, but our recording equipment could track them very well."

Bohn said the team discovered several types of syllables, each one an individual sound. Syllables are combined in specific ways to make three types of phrases - a chirp, a buzz or a trill. Different combinations of the three are used by males during the mating process.

The results are surprising because in general terms, mammals such as bats don't have "language rules" - the use of specific sequence of phrases and a complex means of communication to others in their species, Bohn said.

"We've learned the vocal production of bats is very specific and patterned, and now we have a model not only to study communication similarities in other animals, but also human speech. We think this is a big first step," she said.

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.

The Mexican free-tailed bat is one of the most common bat species. Dark brown in color with rounded ears, the bats are frequently seen in the southwest United States, and in Central and South America.


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