Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 56, Issue 2, pp 106–115 | Cite as

Bat serenades—complex courtship songs of the sac-winged bat (Saccopteryx bilineata)

  • Oliver BehrEmail author
  • Otto von Helversen
Original Article


Vocalisations of many songbirds, anurans, and insects are shaped by sexual selection. Males acoustically compete for territories, and females choose their mates by means of male courtship songs. In courtship, richness and complexity of elements are often favoured characters. Only a few examples of complex songs are known in mammals. Males of the harem-polygynous sac-winged bat (Saccopteryx bilineata, Emballonuridae) have an uncommonly complex vocal repertoire, and different song types of males are used in the context of territorial defence and in courting females. We classified the daytime vocalisations of 16 male S. bilineata from a colony in Costa Rica, both on the basis of their acoustical properties and the social context in which they occurred. Seven vocalisation types were differentiated: echolocation pulses, barks, chatter, whistles, screeches, territorial songs and courtship songs. Territorial songs were short, rather stereotyped and not obviously directed towards a certain conspecific. They appear to be of importance in male competition for harem territories, in which females roost during the day. Courtship songs were exclusively observed when males displayed towards a female; they were long and complex, and consisted of highly variable elements (“calls”). We classified the calls in courtship songs of six males into call types, based on acoustical properties, mainly spectral purity and duration. Four call types are described in detail: trills, noise-bursts, “short tonal” calls, and “quasi constant frequency” calls. Twelve parameter values were extracted from the most common call type, the trill. Discriminant function analysis of trills showed that different males had different repertoires. This could allow females to use trill parameters for recognition of individual males and thus for mate choice.


Courtship Saccopteryx Sexual selection Song Territoriality 



We thank Sonja Meister for unpublished data on courtship songs, which she contributed to this paper. Eva Daubert participated in field data acquisition and made most helpful comments during discussions on the topic. Christian Voigt, Jens Wilke, Gerald Heckel, Eva Daubert, Mirjam Knörnschild and Frieder Mayer revised the manuscript. We also want to thank Felix Matt, Sonja Meister, Marc Holderied, Nic Kondratieff, Volker Runkel, Johannes Schul, Dagmar von Helversen, Christian Voigt, Gerald Heckel and Marco Tschapka for technical support, suggestions, and stimulating discussions. La Selva Biological Station and the Organisation for Tropical Studies facilitated the study by provisioning their sophisticated infrastructure. We also thank the Costa Rican authorities, especially Javier Guevara and the Parque Nacional Braulio Carillo, for support and research permissions. This study was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the Bear Foundation and the University of Erlangen by a postgraduate scholarship. All field work complied with the current laws of Costa Rica.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut für Zoologie IIUniversität Erlangen – NürnbergErlangenGermany

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