The internet may have lead you to think that humans are the only species that try to wind others up and selfishly ruin someone else’s day, but you’d be wrong. As Smithsonian reports, Mexican free-tailed bats are the animal equivalent of every overly aggressive ALL CAPS Twitter user you’ve ever blocked.
Researchers from Wake Forest University and the University of Maryland studied this particular species and found that they get ahead (and get fed) by blocking other bats’ echolocation calls, confusing them so that they can’t find their prey. Rude. They do this by making their own call louder and on the same frequency, essentially screaming until the other bat gives up.
The researchers studied bats in Arizona and New Mexico for three summers, tracking them using a spotlight, video recorder and an audio detector that allowed them to turn the calls into sounds the human ear can identify. They discovered almost 70 instances of a loud, whiny noise that began soon after another bat sent out a sound signalling its predatory intentions, only ending when the first bat cut their losses or caught the prey regardless.
It’s not the most subtle form of sabotage, but it is effective: the aural assault made the original bat 77% less likely to catch the food they fancied in New Mexico and 86% less likely in Arizona. This was too coordinated and too effective to be a mistake, but it was a surprising finding because most bat species care as much about etiquette as the Dowager Countess. They’ll willingly alter their call frequency so as not to be on the same wavelength as a nearby acquaintance and even share snacks when times are hard.
But at least Mexican free-tailed bats have a good reason for being so ruthless: they live in huge colonies with over a million others, so they have to fight for their food. Or maybe they’re just sick of the sight of each other and this is a good way to relieve the tension. Either way, it’s probably for the best that no one’s told them about the internet.
Image by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters via Wikimedia Commons.
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