A routine night survey involving nocturnal mammal researchers and bat researchers during the Penang Hill BioBlitz 2017 has produced an important finding. Researchers based at USM’s School of Biological Sciences, Priscillia Miard and Lee Sim Lim stumbled upon an unusual ultrasound call when out looking for insectivorous bats. This call was distinctly different from the kinds of calls made by bats. Further investigation revealed the source – a Sunda Colugo! This was later confirmed with detection of the same ultrasound frequencies among colugos at the Penang Botanic Gardens.
A search of the literature on this subject has confirmed what the team had suspected – this is indeed the first time that colugos have been observed communicating with the use of ultrasound. It is theorised that the colugo uses this form of inaudible communication to warn of nearby predators. It does not rely on ultrasound to navigate in the dark in the same way bats do. This finding has now been published in the academic journal Bioacoustics. You can read the article in full here.
Further research is likely to reveal additional insights. Indeed this newfound ability to detect these cryptic animals by listening out for their private messages is a major boost to researchers of nocturnal mammals because it can be used to locate individuals more easily and also observe their social behaviour in groups.
Watch the video captured by JASON Learning of this exciting discovery!
Priscillia Miard is the recipient of a 2018 Research Grant from The Habitat Foundation to continue her Night Spotting Project in Penang and northern Peninsular Malaysia.