Hearing loss is a hallmark of aging, typically initially affecting the higher frequencies. In echolocating bats, the ability to discern high frequencies is essential. However, nothing is known about age-related hearing loss in bats, and they are often assumed to be immune to it. We tested the hearing of 47 wild Egyptian fruit bats by recording their auditory brainstem response and cochlear microphonics, and we also assessed the cochlear histology in four of these bats. We used the bats’ DNA methylation profile to evaluate their age and found that bats exhibit age-related hearing loss, with more prominent deterioration at the higher frequencies. The rate of the deterioration was ∼1 dB per year, comparable to the hearing loss observed in humans. Assessing the noise in the fruit bat roost revealed that these bats are exposed to continuous immense noise—mostly of social vocalizations—supporting the assumption that bats might be partially resistant to loud noise. Thus, in contrast to previous assumptions, our results suggest that bats constitute a model animal for the study of age-related hearing loss.

[original abstract]

Original study:

Tarnovsky, Y. C., Taiber, S., Nissan, Y., Boonman, A., Assaf, Y., Wilkinson, G. S., … & Yovel, Y. (2023). Bats experience age-related hearing loss (presbycusis). Life Science Alliance, 6( 6). DOI: 10.26508/lsa.202201847

Egyptian fruit bat (Rosettus aegyptiacus) in flight. Photo: Yuval Barkai
The hearing of bats decreases with age