Learning to Speak in Dialects: Baby Bat Edition

Learning to speak requires the ability to listen to and produce sounds, a technique known as vocal learning. Vocal learning is essential for language development in humans, but it has only been studied in a few select birds and animals.

batEgyptian fruit bats are very social and vocal mammals. They live in vast colonies with thousands of individuals. In the wild, baby fruit bats live in roosts where they are exposed to a racket of fruit bat sounds in complete darkness. Only a small minority of those sounds are emitted from the mother. Previous work has shown that if bat babies are deprived of sound, their vocal development is delayed.

The study by Prat et al. investigated whether vocal development was shaped directly by the sounds of individuals that interact with the baby, or passively by the racket of sounds in the roost. In their experiments, the researchers had three sets of fruit bat babies. They mimicked a roost-like atmosphere by playing bat sounds in the background, including sounds from the mother. Each group of baby fruit bats was exposed to a unique background sound frequency. Because vocal learning is influenced by frequencies, the researchers could use this knowledge to determine which sounds influenced fruit bat baby development. They found that, once babies reached 6 months of age, they produced distinct sounds that were shaped by the frequency of the background track.

This work has provided significant insight into vocal learning in the fruit bat population and has motivated the continued exploration of vocal learning in other animals.

Summary written by: Emma Finlayson-Trick

To read the full article, please click here:

Crowd vocal learning induces vocal dialects in bats: Playback of conspecifics shapes fundamental frequency usage by pups

Yosef Prat, Lindsay Azoulay, Roi Dor, Yossi Yovel

Leave a Reply