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ScienceShot: I Spy a Cat in a Tree

By: 
Virginia Morell
2013-09-03 19:15

Many mammals and birds make noisy calls when predators lurk nearby. Now, researchers have discovered that black-fronted titi monkeys (Callicebus nigrifrons) emit alarm calls that are remarkably versatile for primates, simultaneously announcing the type of predator and its location. To find out what the monkeys were conveying, scientists conducted experiments in Brazil’s Atlantic Rainforest with a stuffed raptor and cat. When the titi monkeys saw the raptor in the trees, they uttered a series of calls that mean “Raptor! Tree!” But when the monkeys discovered it on the ground, they mixed the calls: “Raptor! Ground!” Similarly, when they noticed a stuffed cat that the scientists placed on the ground, the monkeys warned: “Cat! Ground!” And when they encountered the cat in the canopy, they announced the location first, bursting out: “Tree! Cat!” Meerkats and chickadees can also announce the kind of predator and its whereabouts, but this telegraphing has never been discovered before in primates, the scientists report in the current issue of Biology Letters.

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