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When the bat sings

Science  20 Jun 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6190, pp. 1334-1337
DOI: 10.1126/science.344.6190.1334

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Summary

Bats, like birds, can sing. They emit multisyllabic trills and chirps in specific combinations and rhythms, crafting tunes that are as complex as those of songbirds. From New Zealand to Africa, researchers are seeking out bat troubadours to find out when and why these winged mammals burst into song, and why they have evolved this mentally demanding ability. Studies by Kirsten Bohn, Michael Smotherman, and others have shown that like many songbirds, most bat songsters are male, live in polygynous societies where males mate with more than one female, and tend to sing to court females and defend territories. Their complex songs are probably not innate, and so require vocal learning, as bird song and human speech do. Studies by these and other researchers are exploring what bats can reveal about the evolution of complex vocal abilities, including human speech.