Brown bats use echolocation to hunt moths, wasps and other insects and are capable of complex coordination. For instance, when a male bat finds a tasty bug, he chirps to tell other hunters the prey is claimed. Basically, male bats call "Dibs!" on food, according to a new scientific report.
Researchers at the University of Maryland released big brown bats, flying solo or in pairs, into a room with a mealworm. When a male bat pinpointed the grub, he often let loose a longer, lower call -- a different cry from other sounds used in echolocation, the scientists noticed. If the animals were hunting in pairs, the bat that didn't make the call flew away from the grub more than half the time.
Because bats hunt in the dark of night, vocal communication is "essential" to avoid collisions, the scientists write. But lead author Genevieve Wright, a bat biologist at the University of Maryland, says it's unclear why females won't call to claim prey. One possible reason, according to Wright and her colleagues, is that males frequently hunt alone -- unlike female bats -- and may need to audibly defend food from strangers.
Although scientists have studied bats for decades, foraging and other common behaviors "remain mysterious," Wright says. But this report brings critical component of bat hunting to light: During the summer months, Wright believes this bat cry rings out "thousands of times a night all over North America."
Animation of Two Male Bats Competing for Prey