The researchers took daily audio and video recordings of the young, and tracked them from birth until weaning, which for most bats is around three months. They are usually seven years old.
They found that male and female pups babble daily for about seven weeks, with “babble bouts” of “long multi-syllable sound sequences” lasting up to 43 minutes at a time.
The study authors said infants babble to control their tongue, lips, jaw, and vocal system.
Behavior rarely seen
But they added that chatter or vocal imitation is “rare in the animal kingdom” and so far has only been observed in songbirds – although only songbirds practice this behaviour.
They said this is the first time another mammal has been documented as using vocal practice behaviour, in which both male and female bats engage in babbling.
The researchers returned the recordings to Germany for study.
They found interesting similarities between the babbling characteristics of bats and humans.
“Little babble, for example, is characterized by re-doubling of syllables, similar to characteristic syllable repetition – (as) ‘Dadada’ – in infant babbling,” said study co-author Lara Burchardt.
The researchers said they hope the findings will lead to further investigation of the evolution of speech in the human and animal kingdoms and, ultimately, the evolutionary origin of human language.
Ahana Aurora Fernandez, the lead researcher on the study, told CNN that in addition to imitating adult voices, it was also observed that the pups learned the songs of adult males.
“Bats are wonderful creatures, they are animals with very complex social lives (and) many species live in stable perennial groups throughout their lives,” she said.
“What most people probably don’t know is… that many species (of bats) have well-developed social vocal communications.
“Everyone knows they use echolocation to navigate and forage, but what’s really interesting is the number of sounds used to mediate social interactions. Bats sing like songbirds,” she added.
“The song is often produced at high frequencies so we can’t hear it, but if we can realize our nights are filled with (songs of) bats,” she said.
The study was published in the journal Science on Thursday.