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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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Paw Enforcement: A History of McGruff the Crime Dog
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Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Jack Keil, executive creative director of the Dancer Fitzgerald Sample ad agency, was stuck in a Kansas City airport at three in the morning when he started thinking about Smokey Bear. Smokey was the furred face of forest fire prevention, an amiable creature who cautioned against the hazards of unattended campfires or errant cigarette butts. Everyone, it seemed, knew Smokey and heeded his words.

In 1979, Keil’s agency had been tasked with coming up with a campaign for the recently-instituted National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), a nonprofit organization looking to educate the public about crime prevention. If Keil could create a Smokey for their mission, he figured he would have a hit. He considered an elephant who could stamp out crime, or a rabbit who was hopping mad about illegal activity.

A dog seemed to fit. Dogs bit things, and the NCPC was looking to take a bite out of crime. Keil sketched a dog reminiscent of Snoopy with a Keystone Cop-style hat.

Back at the agency, people loved the idea but hated the dog. In a week’s time, the cartoon animal would morph into McGruff, the world-weary detective who has raised awareness about everything from kidnapping to drug abuse. While he no longer looked like Snoopy, he was about to become just as famous.

In 1979, the public service advertising nonprofit the Ad Council held a meeting to discuss American paranoia. Crime was a hot button issue, with sensational reports about drugs, home invasions, and murders taking up the covers of major media outlets like Newsweek and TIME. Surveys reported that citizens were concerned about crime rates and neighborhood safety. Respondents felt helpless to do anything, since more law enforcement meant increased taxes.

To combat public perception, the Ad Council wanted to commit to an advertising campaign that would act as a preventive measure. Crime could not be stopped, but the feeling was that it could be dented with more informed communities. Maybe a clean park would be less inviting to criminals; people might need to be reminded to lock their doors.

What people did not need was a lecture. So the council enlisted Dancer Fitzgerald Sample to organize a campaign that promoted awareness in the most gentle way possible. Keil's colleagues weighed in on his dog idea; someone suggested that the canine be modeled after J. Edgar Hoover, another saw a Superman-esque dog that would fly in to interrupt crime. Sherry Nemmers and Ray Krivascy offered an alternative take: a dog wearing a trench coat and smoking a cigar, modeled in part after Peter Falk’s performance as the rumpled TV detective Columbo.

Keil had designs on getting Falk to voice the animated character, but the actor’s methodical delivery wasn’t suited to 30-second commercials, so Keil did it himself. His scratchy voice lent an authoritarian tone, but wasn't over-the-top.

The agency ran a contest on the back of cereal boxes to name the dog. “Sherlock Bones” was the most common submission, but "McGruff"—which was suggested by a New Orleans police officer—won out.

Armed with a look, a voice, and a name, Nemmers arranged for a series of ads to run in the fall of 1980. In the spots, McGruff was superimposed over scenes of a burglary and children wary of being kidnapped by men in weather-beaten cars. He advised people to call the police if they spotted something suspicious—like strangers taking off with the neighbor’s television or sofa—and to keep their doors locked. He sat at a piano and sang “users are losers” in reference to drug-abusing adolescents. (The cigar had been scrapped.)

Most importantly, the NCPC—which had taken over responsibility for McGruff's message—wanted the ads to have what the industry dubbed “fulfillment.” At the end, McGruff would advise viewers to write to a post office box for a booklet on how to prevent crime in their neck of the woods.

A lot of people did just that. More than 30,000 booklets went out during the first few months the ads aired. McGruff’s laconic presence was beginning to take off.

By 1988, an estimated 99 percent of children ages six to 12 recognized McGruff, putting him in Ronald McDonald territory. He appeared on the ABC series Webster, in parades, and in thousands of personal appearances around the country, typically with a local police officer under the suit. (The appearances were not without danger: Some dogs apparently didn't like McGruff and could get aggressive at the sight of him.)

As McGruff aged into the 1990s, his appearances grew more sporadic. The NCPC began targeting guns and drugs and wasn’t sure the cartoon dog was a good fit, so his appearances were limited to the end of some ad spots. By the 2000s, law enforcement cutbacks meant fewer cops in costume, and a reduced awareness of the crime-fighting canine. When Keil retired, an Iowa cop named Steve Parker took over McGruff's voice duties.

McGruff is still in action today, aiding in the NCPC’s efforts to raise awareness of elder abuse, internet crimes, and identity theft. The organization estimates that more than 4000 McGruffs are in circulation, though at least one of them failed to live up to the mantle. In 2014, a McGruff performer named John Morales pled guilty to possession of more than 1000 marijuana plants and a grenade launcher. He’s serving 16 years in prison.

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Animals
Watch a Panda Caretaker Cuddle With Baby Pandas While Dressed Up Like a Panda
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iStock

Some people wear suits to work—but at one Chinese nature reserve, a handful of lucky employees get to wear panda suits.

As Travel + Leisure reports, the People's Daily released a video in July of animal caretakers cuddling with baby pandas at the Wolong National Nature Reserve in China's Sichuan Province. The keepers dress in fuzzy black-and-white costumes—a sartorial choice that's equal parts adorable and imperative to the pandas' future success in the wild.

Researchers raise the pandas in captivity with the goal of eventually releasing them into their natural habitat. But according to The Atlantic, human attachment can hamper the pandas' survival chances, plus it can be stressful for the bears to interact with people. To keep the animals calm while acclimating them to forest life, the caretakers disguise their humanness with costumes, and even mask their smell by smearing the suits with panda urine and feces. Meanwhile, other keepers sometimes conceal themselves by dressing up as trees.

Below, you can watch the camouflaged panda caretakers as they cuddle baby pandas:

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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