Boughman, J.W. (1997) Greater spear-nosed bats give group distinctive calls. Behavioral Ecology & Sociobiology 40: 61-70.
Individually distinctive vocalizations are ubiquitous; however, group distinctive calls have rarely been demonstrated. Under some conditions, selection should favor calls indicating social group membership in animals that forage in groups. Greater spear-nosed bats (Phyllostomus hastatus) give calls that appear to facilitate recognition of social group mates who are unrelated. Females give loud broadband (4-18 kHz) vocalizations termed screech calls when departing on foraging trips and at foraging sites. Screech calls help to establish foraging groups among social group members, and to maintain contact over the long distances they travel while foraging. I test two hypotheses about how screech calls may be structured to convey caller identity. Individual calls may be distinct and group members may learn to recognize each individual's calls and to associate the individual with the social group. Alternatively, groups may give distinct calls and individuals within groups may share call characteristics. To test these hypotheses I conducted multivariate acoustic analysis of multiple calls from 28 bats from three social groups. Although the ubiquity of individually distinctive calls in other taxa makes this result more likely, the results reveal that group calls are highly distinctive. Individual bats within groups are statistically indistinguishable. Calls appear to decrease slightly in frequency as bats age. Call convergence among unrelated group mates implies vocal learning in this species.