A group of Tel Aviv University researchers have discovered something new about bats; they are professional eavesdroppers.

Listening to the bat signals of others, the eavesdropping scientists discovered they were not the only ones listening in on the bats’ signals. Reciprocal eavesdropping is an important part of social animals survival and hunting techniques.

“Bats emit sonar signals to sense their environment,” Yossi Yovel of TAU University’s School of Zoology said. “By recording them in real-time we can tell when they’re attacking prey or when they encounter another bat and how they respond to it.”

He added that this information provides new understanding about how the miniature flying mammals listen to one another to better work in a group.

The bat signals may also have applications beyond zoological curiosity.

“It could even provide insight into operating swarms of drones in a collective search mission, for example,” Dr. Yovel said.

To eavesdrop on the bats, Dr, Yovel and his team fitted 30 mouse-tailed with GPS-enabled recording devices. Using a surgical glue that was meant to fail in about a week, the team then collected the recording devices once they fell off the bats.

While over half of the devices were lost, the recorders that were able to be recovered offered valuable information and provided 1100 bat recordings which captured simple chatter between bats to hunting activities.

Dr. Yovel was pleased by the discovery made by his team and stressed very little is actually known about much of our natural world and research of this type is often difficult.

“We seek to understand nature,” Dr. Yovel said. “We seek to understand how animals make decisions in the wild, but we are very limited in our ability to track animals in their natural environment, to accurately track their behavior, their foraging tactics and interactions with counterparts.”

He added that in the bat study he and his team “were lucky to be able to harness a novel technology to gain insight into the secret world of bats.”