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Bats tell each other to 'back off' as they swoop for yummy bugs

Published on Mar 28, 2014 12:50 AM

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The sound made by a male big brown bat as it zeroes in on a bug that might make a tasty meal - if another bat doesn't get there first - is a sequence of chirps beyond the range of human ears.

But to another bat, the meaning is unmistakable: "Back off." Scientists said on Thursday they have identified a previously unknown call made by these bats - different from the sonar-like echolocation used for mid-air navigation and hunting - that tells another foraging bat to keep away from their prey.

The call is made exclusively by the males of this species for reasons that are not entirely clear. And the other foraging bats seem to honor the request, the researchers found.

The discovery indicates that acoustic communication in these flying mammals may be more sophisticated than previously thought and underscores the importance of vocal social communication for these nocturnal insect-eating animals, the researchers said.

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