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Science magazine goes batty for Bohn


Bat expert Kirsten Bohn with bat song recording gear at Uxmal, Mexico. PHOTO: VIRGINIA MORELL/SCIENCE

Bat expert Kirsten Bohn with bat song recording gear at Uxmal, Mexico.
PHOTO: VIRGINIA MORELL/SCIENCE MAGAZINE, AAAS

FIU biologist Kirsten Bohn has made a career out of music, but she’s not a performer or a record producer. She’s a bat biologist.

She has devoted her career to studying these elusive creatures through their unique method of communication — echolocation. Her work caught the attention of the editors at Science magazine, one of the world’s leading outlets for scientific news, commentary and cutting-edge research. Correspondent Virgina Morell recently accompanied Bohn and her team on a trip to Uxmal, Mexico to document the adventures of “when the bat sings” for the magazine’s current issue. Home to a very large site of Mayan ruins, Bohn and her team listen in on the broad-eared bat (Nyctinomops laticaudatus) that calls Uxmal home.

“These bats are from the same family as Tadarida brasiliensis (Brazilian free-tailed bats),” Bohn said. “I have done a lot of research on Tadarida and they sing like birds. This project was aimed at determining if or how Nyctinomops sang too.”

A greater sac-winged bat (Saccopteryx bilineata) in flight, with sonograms of a male’s territorial song below. S. bilineata is one of 20 bat species known to sing, producing calls that are as varied and structurally complex as bird song. See page 1334 in issue of Science. Images: (bat) © Bruce D. Taubert/Bat Conservation International; (sound waves) Mirjam Knörnschild/University of Ulm. Reprinted with permission from AAAS.

A greater sac-winged bat (Saccopteryx bilineata) in flight, with sonograms of a male’s territorial song below. S. bilineata is one of 20 bat species known to sing, producing calls that are as varied and structurally complex as bird song. See page 1334 in issue of Science magazine.
Images: (bat) © Bruce D. Taubert/Bat Conservation International; (sound waves) Mirjam Knörnschild/University of Ulm. Reprinted with permission from AAAS.

Bohn is best known for identifying bat love songs — the method in which males use distinguishable sounds to attract females during mating season and in other social situations year-round.

While fun, her work has also resulted in major policy decisions affecting bats. Most recently, Bohn helped to secure endangered status for the Florida bonneted bat – the state’s rarest bat species. Other species require Bohn to travel to different parts of the world. She is currently in Honduras working on Brazilian free-tailed bat song dialects.

“We are delighted to have Dr. Bohn’s work on this important mammal featured in the top science journal,” said Suzanna M. Rose, Executive Director of the School of Integrated Science and Humanity. “Bats are a quarter of all the mammals on earth. Dr. Bohn’s research sheds light on how bats communicate through song and may lead to insights concerning the evolution of speech in humans.”

Learn more about Bohn’s research here.