Often unfairly maligned for their fearsome depictions in popular culture and not-totally-unearned reputation for carrying rabies, bats are fascinating creatures. The winged Halloween mascots can make tents from leaves that protect them from weather and predators, crawl on the ground, and even sing seductive songs to find mates.
Apparently, they’re also prone to bickering. A 2016 study published in the journal Scientific Reports demonstrated that bats packed into roosts were highly vocal toward their peers, with their inflections indicative of being slightly aggrieved.
Over a 75-day period, Tel Aviv University researchers eavesdropped on 22 Egyptian fruit bats collected near Herzliya, Israel. While their sounds were, of course, unintelligible to the human ear, researchers had a way of deciphering their meaning. They took 14,863 of the calls and processed them using software that could isolate distinctive sounds. Once they identified a sound, they could then examine the corresponding video footage of the bats to see which noises were associated with which behaviors.
It turns out that bats had specific complaints about food, sleeping positions, unwanted sexual advances, and other bats that were getting in their personal space. Each situation involved a different vocalization. Bats even used a different “tone” depending on which specific bat they were addressing. Rather than admonish the entire group, bats singled each other out for a haranguing. Some bats left after being chewed out, while others stayed.
Future research might shed light on how bats learn these communications and whether they’re used in the wild or whether they reserve their disgruntled squealing for when they’re in an overcrowded bat hangout.