Boughman JW & Wilkinson GS (1998) Greater spear-nosed bats discriminate group mates by vocalizations. Animal Behaviour 55: 1717-1732.
Individuals often benefit from identifying their prospective social partners. Some species that live in stable social groups discriminate between their group mates and others, basing this distinction on calls that differ among individuals. Vocalizations that differ between social groups are much less common, and few studies have demonstrated that animals use group-distinctive calls to identify group mates. Female greater spear-nosed bats, Phyllostomus hastatus, live in stable groups of unrelated bats and give audible frequency, broadband calls termed screech calls when departing from the roost and at foraging sites. Previous field observations suggested that bats give screech calls to coordinate movements among group members. Prior acoustic analyses of 12 acoustic variables found group differences but not individual differences. Here, we use the same acoustic variables to compare calls from three cave colonies, and find that calls differ between caves. We also report results from field and laboratory playback experiments designed to test whether bats use acoustic differences to discriminate calls from different colonies, groups or individuals. Results from field playbacks indicate that response depends on the cave of origin, indicating that bats can discriminate among calls from different caves. This discrimination ability may be based, in part, on whether calls are familiar or unfamiliar to the listening bats. Laboratory playbacks demonstrate that bats discriminate calls given by their group matesfrom calls given by other bats from the same cave irrespective of familiarity. However, these experiments provide no evidence that bats discriminate among individuals. Previous field work indicates that females that forage with social group mates may benefit from shared information about food or mutual defence of feeding sites. Indicating group membership is essential, since these benefits appear to be restricted to group mates.