Some animals look more like Pokémon than Pokémon do, and this is surely true of the hammerhead bat. With the intimidating species name Hypsignathus monstrosus, it sounds like a villain, but the hammerhead bat is a fruit-slurping sweetie.
Also known as the hammer-headed fruit bat, or – our personal favorite – the big-lipped bat, it flaps across West and Central Africa in search of figs, bananas, and mangoes. As for why it needs that massive snoot? The enlarged rostrum and square head is a feature in males that, combined with a big larynx and lips, enables them to make loud honking vocalizations.
The honk of the male hammerhead bat is crucial if he’s going to mate. Hammerhead bats are lekking species, which means they form in big groups when it’s time to get it on. As many as 150 males can flock together to hang from branches and sing their songs, and only the smash hits will be selected by choosy females.
Turns out, sex has a big influence on more than just the males' big noses.
“These are not terribly smart bats,” said Jack Bradbury of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology to NPR. “I think most of the synapses in the brain of this male bat [are] devoted to sex, and he doesn't have much else on the mind, except getting some food."
So sing he shall, creating what Bradbury describes as a “staccato buzz – a very, very loud, rapid buzzing sound”. The females only join the cacophony when it’s time to go, vocalizing a “release sound” when the mating is complete.
As the largest bat on the African continent, the hammerhead bat has a wingspan of up to 97 centimeters (38 inches), reports Snopes, with the males being considerably larger than the females. They don’t attack humans but are regarded as a pest due to their voracious frugivorous diets.
Hammerhead bats aren’t the only ones doing fancy things with their larynxes. Scientists at the University of Southern Denmark studying Myotis daubentonii’s throat anatomy discovered they can vibrate their vocal folds to emit death metal growls. Their total vocal range spanned seven octaves, putting them top of the pops when it comes to singing species.
“Most mammals have a range of 3-4, and humans about 3,” said Professor Coen Elemans, of the Department of Biology at the University of Southern Denmark. “Some human singers can reach a range of 4-5, but they are only very few. Well-known examples are Mariah Carey, Axl Rose, and Prince. It turns out that bats surpass this range by using different structures in their larynx.”
Honk on, you crazy chiropterans.