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Bats Use Baby Talk To Teach Their Pups, Researchers Say

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

You know how scientists are always curious? Well, one scientist started wondering if bats do something that humans do.

AHANA AURORA FERNANDEZ: When we humans talk to a baby, we automatically change our voices. Hello, my baby. You are so cute. My voice goes up.

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

That's Ahana Aurora Fernandez. She's in Berlin but did her bat study in Panama. And she found that, as many humans do, mommy bats talk to baby bats in a similar way. There's a word for this way of talking. It's motherese (ph). Experts say that in humans - and, apparently, also in bats - it helps with language learning.

KELLY: Ahana Fernandez sent us recordings she made to illustrate her findings. They are slowed down so we can better hear the differences between adult bats talking to each other and the motherese used on bat pups. First, here's two adult bats talking to each other.

(SOUNDBITE OF BATS SQUEAKING)

KELLY: OK, and now here's a mother bat with her pup.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAT SQUEAKING)

PFEIFFER: It took patience for Ahana Hernandez to record bat conversation. She sat in the jungle in a chair for hour after hour, waiting for bat conversations to happen. She even brought along books to pass the time. Scientific research is not always riveting.

KELLY: No. All told, Ahana Fernandez and her colleagues conducted their research for these last five years, and they found something else along the way. Baby bats babble.

FERNANDEZ: They use sort of a vocal practice behavior which is reminiscent of babbling in infants.

KELLY: Bat baby talk.

PFEIFFER: Her team's report was published this month, and it shows that in the first three months of life, these bat pups experiment with their speech.

FERNANDEZ: They learn a part of their adult vocal repertoire through vocal imitation as we humans do.

KELLY: Amazing and maybe proof that kids can drive you batty whether they're human or bat - like little bitty beautiful momma's sweet baby bats. (Kissing).

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDERSON .PAAK SONG, "TWILIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.