Sound amplification by means of a horn-like roosting structure in Spix's disc-winged bat

Gloriana Chaverri, Erin H. Gillam


While sound is a signal modality widely used by many animals, it is very susceptible to attenuation, hampering effective long-distance communication. A strategy to minimize sound attenuation that has been historically used by humans is to use acoustic horns; to date, no other animal is known to use a similar structure to increase sound intensity. Here, we describe how the use of a roosting structure that resembles an acoustic horn (the tapered tubes that form when new leaves of plants such as Heliconia or Calathea species start to unfurl) increases sound amplification of the incoming and outgoing social calls used by Spix's disc-winged bat (Thyroptera tricolor) to locate roosts and group members. Our results indicate that incoming calls are significantly amplified as a result of sound waves being increasingly compressed as they move into the narrow end of the leaf. Outgoing calls were faintly amplified, probably as a result of increased sound directionality. Both types of call, however, experienced significant sound distortion, which might explain the patterns of signal recognition previously observed in behavioural experiments. Our study provides the first evidence of the potential role that a roost can play in facilitating acoustic communication in bats.

  • Received September 10, 2013.
  • Accepted September 23, 2013.
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