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Bats Follow Musical Rules When Writing Love Songs

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Making a mix of love songs for your special someone? Looking for something lively to slip in between Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" and The Temptations' "My Girl"? I highly recommend a little number called "Chirp-Buzz-Buzz" by...a group of Brazilian free-tailed bats.

Turns out that bats are quite the romantic crooners, using "love song" vocalizations to attract females (and in some cases, to scare away intruding males). According to a new study*, their love songs are more complex than previously thought and have a number of musical rules. The researchers—from the Department of Biology at Texas A&M University, the Section of Neurobiology at the University of Texas at Austin and Bat World, a bat sanctuary and rehabilitation center in Mineral Wells, Texas—spent close to four years recording and analyzing the songs of two populations of Brazilian free-tailed bats (also known as Mexican free-tailed, scientific name Tadarida brasiliensis). The first group was a captive colony of about 60 bats in Austin, maintained by one of the study's authors. The second group was a wild colony of approximately 100,000 to 250,000 bats within Texas A&M's athletic complex in College Station.

After examining a total of 412 songs from 33 bats and comparing song variation within and across individuals and between the two different colonies, the researchers determined the male bats use several types of syllables with  individual sounds to create three easily recognizable phrases:

Chirps are complex phrases composed of "A" and "B" syllables**.
*
Trills are composed of short (mean = 3.4 ms) downward FM syllables that can be connected or are separated by short silent intervals.
*
Buzzes are composed of short (3 ms) downward FM syllables that are never connected.

These phrases, in turn, are used in different combinations to produce songs. The researchers found that particular phrase sequences kept coming up and identified several rules governing phrase order:

1) Songs begin almost exclusively with chirps.

2) Trills do not follow buzzes, but instead always follow chirps or another trill.

3) The majority of buzzes (90%) are followed by another buzz or occur at the end of the song (songs containing a buzz ended in a buzz 84 % of the time).

This may not seem like very impressive music theory, but complex songs and specific structural "language rules" are rare among mammals; previous mammalian research hasn't gone much further than determining that song elements are used in a non-random order. These bats' songs and the rules that govern them, though, may be "more analogous to those of some birds than to other mammals," say they researchers. Birds and their songs have long been the basis for understanding vocal production and the evolution of vocal complexity as well as the physiology of vocal production. With this new study, there's a foundation for future research into mammalian vocals, "a model not only to study communication similarities in other animals, but also human speech," says lead author Kirsten M. Bohn.

Here's a video featuring the vocal stylings of Sid the bat, with commentary by researcher Dr. George Pollak:

* Bohn KM, Schmidt-French B, Schwartz C, Smotherman M, Pollak GD. (2009). Versatility and Stereotypy of Free-Tailed Bat Songs. PLoS ONE 4(8):e6746. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0006746

** "A" syllables are short (5 ms) downward frequency modulated (FM) sweep syllables. "B" syllables are longer (17ms) and more complex, often beginning with an upward FM followed by a longer downward FM and sometimes ending with another upward FM.

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Food
Let Alexa Help You Brine a Turkey This Thanksgiving
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There’s a reason most of us only cook turkey once a year: The bird is notoriously easy to overcook. You could rely on gravy and cranberry sauce to salvage your dried-out turkey this Thanksgiving, or you could follow cooking advice from the experts.

Brining a turkey is the best way to guarantee it retains its moisture after hours in the oven. The process is also time-consuming, so do yourself a favor this year and let Alexa be your sous chef.

“Morton Brine Time” is a new skill from the cloud-based home assistant. If you own an Amazon Echo you can download it for free by going online or by asking Alexa to enable it. Once it’s set up, start asking Alexa for brining tips and step-by-step recipes customized to the size of your turkey. Two recipes were developed by Richard Blais, the celebrity chef and restaurateur best known for his Top Chef win and Food Network appearances.

Whether you go for a wet brine (soaking your turkey in water, salt, sugar, and spices) or a dry one (just salt and spices), the process isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. And the knowledge that your bird will come out succulent and juicy will definitely take some stress out of the holiday.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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