Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 202, Issue 8, pp 535–554 | Cite as

The origins and diversity of bat songs

  • Michael Smotherman
  • Mirjam Knörnschild
  • Grace Smarsh
  • Kirsten Bohn


Singing plays an important role in the social lives of several disparate bat species, but just how significant the behavior may be among bats generally is unknown. Recent discoveries suggest singing by bats might be surprisingly more diverse and widespread than anticipated, but if true then two questions must be addressed: firstly why has singing been so rarely documented among bats, and secondly do bats sing for the same reasons as songbirds? We address the first question by reviewing how sampling bias and technical constraints may have produced a myopic view of bat social communication. To address the second question, we review evidence from 50 years of batsong literature supporting the supposition that bat singing is linked to the same constellation of ecological variables that favored birdsong, including territoriality, polygyny, metabolic constraints, migratory behaviors and especially powered flight. We propose that bats sing like birds because they fly like birds; flight is energetically expensive and singing reduces time spent flying. Factoring in the singular importance of acoustic communication for echolocating bats, it seems likely that singing may prove to be relatively common among certain groups of bats once it becomes clear when and where to look for it.


Bats Singing Communication Courtship Territoriality 



MS was supported by Texas A&M University and NSF IOS-1354381 while writing this review. MK thanks the German Baden-Wuerttemberg Stiftung, Eliteprogramme for their support. GS was supported by an NSF graduate research fellowship. KB was supported by Florida International University. The authors thank Drs. Jack Bradbury, Brock Fenton, and Peter Slater for providing feedback on an earlier version of the manuscript.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Smotherman
    • 1
  • Mirjam Knörnschild
    • 2
    • 3
  • Grace Smarsh
    • 1
  • Kirsten Bohn
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of BiologyTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA
  2. 2.Department of Animal BehaviorFreie Universität BerlinBerlinGermany
  3. 3.Smithsonian Tropical Research InstituteBalboaPanama
  4. 4.Johns Hopkins UniversityBaltimoreUSA

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