Gibbons' predator songs unveiled
Gibbons use their sophisticated vocal range to warn others of danger
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Thursday, 21, Dec 2006 08:50
Gibbons sing a specific song when faced with a predator in order to alert other animals under threat nearby, scientists claim.
Researchers from the University of St Andrews have found that the primates, well known for their complex mating duets, also deploy a distinctive series of notes which help communicate the proximity of a life-threatening snake, cat or bird of prey.
Whether it be a 'wa', 'hoo', 'sharp wow' or 'waoo', the "crescendo of notes" found in a gibbon's song are significantly different to the mating duets they sing every morning. The presence of danger is quickly communicated throughout the nearby area by other gibbons, who repeat the song at a loud volume.
"We found that gibbons produce loud and conspicuous songs in response to predators to alert kin, both near and far - since gibbons frequently change group compositions, neighbouring groups often consist of close relatives," the researchers said.
"Gibbons appear to use loud 'long-distance' calls to warn relatives in neighbouring areas and that those groups responded by joining in the singing, matching the correct predator song, demonstrating that they understood the difference between calls," they added.
The primates, located somewhere on the evolutionary ladder between great apes and monkeys, are sophisticated enough to use song as an alarm system because they get so much practice while engaged in courting.
"Vocal behaviour appears to function as a powerful tool to deal with immense sexual competition under which these primates operate, and it may not be surprising that they have evolved unusually complex vocal skills to deal with these social challenges," the researchers added.