Baby talk: Study finds that baby bats babble like human babies

Baby Bats

Alastair Rae | Wikimedia Commons

Amanda Salazar, Editor-in-Chief

Baby bats babble just like baby humans, according to a study published in the journal “Science” last autumn, which observed the greater sac-winged bat in Central and South America.

Babbling is the stage of speech formation when an infant makes repetitive sounds, including a lot of vowel sounds. The words “mama” and “dada” can come from babbling and be the precursor to more complex vocabulary and speech.

This speech stage helps babies practice making noises and stringing sounds together, as well as strengthen the ability to speak and sing in humans and in other mammals. Babbling allows them to physically adjust to using their vocal cords and breaths to make sounds.

The study, “Babbling in a vocal learning bat resembles human infant babbling,” found that bat pups, too, babble before they learn to have more complex and mature communication with other bats.

Human babies typically start babbling at around eight months old. From birth until about two months, they cry and coo. From three to four months, they make simple speech sounds.

Starting around five months old, human babies begin making single-syllable speech sounds. During the six to seven month range, babies make reduplicated babbling which eventually develops into variegated babbling, or the mixture of different sounds, after about eight to nine months.

The researchers studied a group of 20 baby bats over a three-month period and recorded their sounds. They then compared the recorded pup babbling to the babbling sounds of baby humans.

By comparing the two, the scientists found that the babbling of the pups shares eight characteristics of the babbling in humans, namely reduplication and rhythmicity, according to the study.

As cute as the thought of a young bat making babbling sounds may be, these findings also have a more practical significance: if bats babble like humans, there may be even more mammals who babble, too.

It also means that there are more similarities between bats and humans than previously thought, begging the question of whether there are any more similarities between the two species for scientists to discover.

Additionally, since many bat species are endangered and there are many negative stereotypes surrounding the species, a positive study like this that uncovers harmless features of bats can actually lead to more people supporting their conservation.

This study may lead to other experiments and initiatives associated with bat conservation, but it also evidence that baby bats are even cuter than one might expect.