A clever bat has discovered that certain leaves function like a speaker system, since the leaves help to transmit, amplify and modify sound, according to a new study.

The bat species name appropriately sounds a bit like a rock group: Spix’s disk-winged bat. Spix’s discovery is described in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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Humans usually get all of the credit for using objects to amplify and modify sound. Now it’s known that this bat does too, with the amplifier serving double duty as a roost.

“Our study provides the first evidence of the potential role that a roost can play in facilitating acoustic communication in bats,” co-authors Gloriana Chaverri and Erin Gillam wrote.

The researchers found that the bats -- native to parts of South America -- seek out particular leaves from plant species such as Heliconia and Calathea. One or more bats go inside large, single leaves that naturally curl into a megaphone-type shape.

As the bats literally hang out, they call to each other, with the leaves affecting those communications. Chaverri, a professor at the University of Costa Rica, explained how the leaf “tech” works.

“Leaves appear to amplify incoming calls as sound waves get increasingly compressed when they enter the leaves,” she told Discovery News. “Outgoing calls are amplified possibly due to sound directionality: Instead of sound being dispersed over a large, area, they are aimed in a specific direction and so retain most of the energy of the original sound.”

The calls could be translated to something like: “Where are you?” and “I’m over here on the left.” The question is referred to as an “inquiry call” and the answer is known as a “response call.”

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“Inquiry calls allow bats to stay nearby while they are flying,” Chaverri explained. “Inquiry calls are also used to inquire about roost location. When bats enter a leaf roost, if they hear an inquiry call, they start vocalizing response calls. Therefore, response calls announce roost location.”

The leaves also distort the calls, but it remains unclear if that helps or hampers the bats. The speaker-like boost is definitely a benefit, though, according to the researchers.

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They believe other bats might exploit natural resources for sound amplification, such as bats that roost in bamboo stems and those that go into tree cavities and rock crevices.

“These structures might act as resonators, which are known to amplify sounds in other animals,” Chaverri said. “Some examples include burrowing frogs and mole crickets.”

She added that many other organisms live inside the tubular leaves chosen by the bats. These include frogs, scorpions and various types of insects.

Mirjam Knoernschild of the University of Ulm’s Institute of Experimental Biology told Discovery News that she agrees with the new study’s conclusions.

Knoernschild said that the authors’ “work on sound amplification by tubular leaves is a new and valuable contribution to the field of animal communication.”

For now, it’s a mystery as to how the bats discovered the communication benefits of particular leaves. Was it trial and error, just a fortuitous coincidence, or the brilliance of one or more smart bats?

Chaverri and Gillam indicate that they might try to solve this mystery in a future research project.