Quirks and Quarks·quirks & quarks

Bats can understand a surprising number of dialects

They can hear the difference between a "London" bat and a "Scottish" bat.
Egyptian fruit bats have many ways to say 'move it.' (Jens Rydell/Tel Aviv University)

Scientists have long believed that dialects set human language apart from other types of animal communication. Now they've learned different caves of bats have different dialects. 

A bat cave is a dark and noisy place. It can be home to a thousand flying mammals, all squeaking and squaking to make themselves heard above the din. 

Dr. Yossi Yovel is a neuroecologist at Tel Aviv University. This week, Yovel and his team reported that baby Egyptian fruit bats learn to speak in different dialects, in terms of the pitch of the vocalizations. 

In a carefully designed experiment, the animals took on vocalizations not only from their mother but also their cavemates.

Yovel says this is the first time that animals besides humans have been shown to learn in this way. 

The findings could have implications for understanding how other social and vocal animals, such as dophins, also communicate, he says.