Baby Bats Babble Just Like Human Babies, Study Finds

Scientists from the Natural History Museum in Berlin are listening in 20 baby bats — called pups — and found that, like humans, they practice making sounds before learning how to talk to others.
The greater pocket wing (Saccopteryx bilineata) bat puppies were observed in their natural habitat in Panama and Costa Rica.

Researchers took audio and video recordings of the pups daily and followed them from birth to weaning, which takes about three months for most bats. Their lifespan is usually seven years.

They found that the male and female pups babbled daily for about seven weeks, with the “babbling bouts” of “long multisyllabic vocal sequences” lasting up to 43 minutes at a time.
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Human babies, the study authors said, babble to gain control over their tongue, lips and jaw and their vocal system.

Rarely Seen Behavior

But babbling, or vocal imitation, they added, “is rare in the animal kingdom” and until now had only been observed in songbirds — although only male songbirds exhibit this behavior.

This is the first time another mammal has been documented to use vocal practice behavior, they said, in which both male and female bats engage in babbling.

The researchers took the recordings to Germany to study them.

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They found interesting parallels between the characteristics of bat babbling and human babbling.

“For example, puppy babble is characterized by syllable doubling, similar to the characteristic syllable repetition — (like) ‘dadada’ — in human infant babble,” said study co-author Lara Burchardt.

The researchers said they hoped the findings would lead to more research into speech development in the human and animal kingdoms and, ultimately, the evolutionary origins of human language.

Advanced communication

Ahana Aurora Fernandez, the study’s lead researcher, told CNN that the puppies not only mimicked the sounds of adults, but also learned the songs of the adult males.

“Bats are fascinating creatures. They are animals with very complex social lives (and) many species live their entire lives in stable perennial groups,” she said.

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“What most people probably don’t know is that many (bat) species have advanced social vocal communication.

“Everyone knows they use echolocation to navigate and forage, but what’s really interesting is how many vocalizations are used to mediate social interactions. And bats sing — like songbirds,” she added.

“Songs are often produced in high frequencies, so we can’t hear it, but if we could, we would realize that our nights are filled with (the) songs of bats,” she said.

The research was published Thursday in the journal Science.

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