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Laura Klappenbach

Decoding Banded Mongoose Calls

By January 12, 2013

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Scientists have discovered that the seemingly simple, mono-syllabic calls of banded mongooses are in fact more complex than they had previously thought. Since, due to restrictions of their anatomy, animals can make only a limited number of different sounds, they construct more complex sounds by stringing shorter sounds into longer ones of several syllables. For this reason, scientists used to think that monosyllabic sounds were lacked complex structure and conveyed only the simplest of meanings.

But now biologist Marta Manser and her doctoral student David Jansen from the University of Zurich have shown that even simple calls consisting of a single syllable can encode more information than previously thought. They likened the structure to that of a vowel and consonant pairing in human speech.

The research focused on the calls of wild banded mongooses in Uganda. The scientists recorded mongoose calls and found that the single syllable calls encoded different vocal structures. By carefully observing the mongooses and studying their calls, Manser and Jansen gathered enough data to understand more about how the call functioned. The initial part of the all gives an indication of the identity of the animal making the call and the latter portion of the call indicates the activity of the caller.

Photo © Anup Shah / Getty Images.

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