Bats discovered using rolled-up leaves as 'ear trumpets'
- Spix's disc-winged bats roost inside leaves of plants such as Heliconia
- Due to their shape, these leaves can amplify sounds by up 10 decibels
- The leaves, however, also cause messages to become muffled which may have caused the bats to develop a more complex response call
By Ellie Zolfagharifard
PUBLISHED: 11:41 EST, 17 October 2013 | UPDATED: 16:04 EST, 17 October 2013
Tiny bats in Central and South America use rolled-up leaves as ear trumpets to improve their hearing.
Other than its use by humans, this is the first time this crafty technique has been seen in nature.
The behaviour was observed in a species known as the Spix's disc-winged bats- distinguished by suction cups on their thumbs and hind feet.
Tiny bats in Central and South America use rolled-up leaves as ear trumpets to improve their hearing. Other than its use by humans, this is the first time this crafty technique has been seen in nature
These tiny bats can often be found nestled inside tapered, unfurling leaves of plants such as Heliconia or Calathea in groups of about five or six.
Leaves of these plants only remain curled for around a day before they open up and the bats have to find a new home.
To find where a group has moved to, Spix's disc-winged bats have a special social call.
Bats on the outside of the leaves send an enquiry, while their friends send a response signal.
The behaviour was observed in a species known as the Spix's disc-winged bats- distinguished by suction cups on their thumbs and hind feet
SPIX'S DISC-WINGED BAT
Spix's disc-winged bats are distinguished by suction cups on their thumbs and hind feet which allow them to cling to smooth surfaces.They can be found in South America, and in countries including Venezuela, Tobago, Trinidad, Brazil and Bolivia.
They can often be found nestled inside tapered, unfurling leaves of plants such as Heliconia or Calathea. Leaves of these plants only remain curled for 24 hours before they open and the bats have to find a new home.
While studying these bats, biologists Gloriana Chaverri and Erin Gillam from the University of Costa Rica in Golfito found that individuals inside the leaves were often unable to recognise calls made from their friends on the outside.
They recreated the tapered leaf environment in a lab and found that the call emitted by flying bats was amplified to those inside the furled leaf.
According to the researchers, the calls from outside the roost were amplified by as much as 10 decimals as sound waves were compressed down the tapered tubes- the same way an ear trumpet amplifies sound.
But although flying bats almost always recognise their group members' response calls, bats inside a leaf seemed unable to tell the difference between the inquiry calls of friends and strangers.
Chaverri claims this is because, as well as amplifying the sound, the leaf distorts incoming calls. She added that bats inside the leaves are likely to respond indiscriminately.
The reason why bats can still find their group, claim scientists, is because the ‘response call’ is more complex and easier to identify, even if the quality of the sound is reduced by the leaves.
The researchers now hope to study how characteristics of the leaf, such as length, width and plant species, affects sound transmission, and how bats may choose their roost because of this.
According to the researchers, the calls from outside the roost were amplified by as much as 10 decimals as sound waves were compressed down the tapered tubes - the same way an ear trumpet amplifies sound
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