Bats are often portrayed as ugly, mysterious, or evil creatures. These representations speak more about our fears than fact-based knowledge about these mammals. Bats make important contributions to the natural world. Even more, bats can help us to understand the evolution of language.


Learning language development from bats

Understanding the “everyday chitchat” of bats may be helpful in advancing our understanding of language evolution. That is why a group of scientists of the NeuroEcology Lab at the Tel Aviv University study bats. Their research has relevance not just because it advances our understanding of bats as very complex animals, but also, because the similarities between the human brain and the bat brain could potentially help in understanding more about fundamental behaviors, like language.
Recently, Yosef Prat, Mor Taub, and Yossi Yovel, scientists working at the NeuroEcology Lab, studying Egyptian fruit bat’s vocalizations, found that:
  • Vocalizations were intended for specific individuals, rather than broadcast, and contain vast information.
  • These vocalizations offer information about the identity of the emitter, the context of the call, the behavioral response to the call, and the call’s addressee.
  • Information on the identity of the addressee could be similar to humans using different intonation toward different listeners while using the same words.

These scientists propose that in studies tracking language evolution, understanding everyday chitchat among nonhuman animals may be helpful. And bats talk to each other a lot.

There is still much more we need to learn about bats. Unfortunately, many populations of bats are in serious decline. Colorado is home to several species of bats and you can help to protect them. There are several local organizations and biology professors that you can contact to learn how to protect these species. As for bats being ugly, well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

rick adamsDr. Rick Adams is a Professor at the University of Northern Colorado and author of Bats of the Rocky Mountain West: Natural History, Ecology, and Conservation (University Press of Colorado, 2003). Dr. Adams is one of the country's leading experts on the ecology and evolution of bats. His research involves the relationship of water resources to population and community ecology of Colorado bats; the development and evolution of flight in bats based on investigations of bone development in prenatal fetuses and in juveniles as they learn to fly; and natural disasters (hurricanes and volcanoes) and their effect on island bat populations.

Adams, Rick A. Bats of the Rocky Mountain West: History, Ecology, and Conservation. University Press of Colorado, 2003.
Pratt, Yoseff, Mor Taub, Jossi Yovel. “Everyday bat vocalizations contain information about emitter, addressee, context and behavior”. Scientific Reports, 22 Dec. 2016, 1-10. doi: 10.1038/srep39419.