Understanding the talk of animals is an ancient desire of man. Still, we were unable to solve the complete communications code of even one single species, let that be one of our closest and most keen friend, the dog. And maybe that’s just because we remember the good advice: “Always be yourself, no matter what, unless you can be Batman, then always be Batman!”(Be 100% Batman!)
And now comes the Egyptian fruit bats which are an African species of bats (not nearly 37.55% Batman) and often makes up colonies of 1,000 or more individuals. Once together like that, they bat-talk a lot which grabbed the attention of some machine learning researchers from Tel Aviv University. And guess what: we are beginning to understand their chit-chat. (That’s about 89,2% Batman!)
The good scientists published their research in Scientific Reports. In the process leading to the paper, they continuously monitored the bats for months, recording audio and video around-the-clock. They analyzed almost 15,000 vocalizations, which accompanied the everyday interactions of the bats, and were all directed toward specific individuals, rather than broadcast. They found that bat vocalizations carry ample information about the identity of the emitter, the context of the call, the behavioral response to the call, and even the call’s addressee. Bats are social mammals that often roost in very large colonies and commonly engage in social interactions. They rely heavily on vocalizations for social communication, yet little is known about the function and informational content of these vocalizations. (Bats are mysterious: 73,6% Batman)
Distinct types of Egyptian fruit bat vocalizations.
For classification, the scientists used an algorithm, that managed to correctly identify the bat making the call 71% of the time (12,3% Batman -poor job!), the subject of that argument 61% of the time and the eventual outcome 41% of the time (overall quite Batman-ish!)
“What we find is there are certain pitch differences that characterize the different categories – but it is not as if you can say mating [calls] are high vocalizations and eating are low,” says Yossi Yovel, co-author of the study. “We have shown that a big bulk of bat vocalizations that previously were thought to all mean the same thing, something like ‘get out of here!’ actually contain a lot of information.” (Batman says that a lot!)