Animals & Wildlife Magazine

Lemurs Eavesdrop Their Way to Safer Futures

By Frontiergap @FrontierGap

In a recent study situated in Ankarafa forest in Madagascar, a diurnal and nocturnal species of Lemur has been shown to have the ability to interpret other species alarm calls in order to protect themselves. This is the first study of its kind on this species of lemurs and has marked an important breakthrough in the anti-predator behavior of these solitary mammals.  

Lemurs eavesdrop their way to safer futures

Picture courtesy of R.Hilgartner

There is little known about the Sahamalaza sportive lemur (Lepilemur sahamalazensis) with the exception that they are critically endangered in the wild. Therefore this recent study is incredibly important as it gives scientists more information on the anti-predatory behavior of these mammals.  In studies on other mammals it has been shown that generally, avoidance of predators governs most of their behavior and this has been verified in other species such as a variety of birds and squirrels.

This particular species of lemur is both solitary, diurnal and nocturnal therefore they have a higher risk percentage when concerned with predation as it is a well known fact that animals are more able to protect themselves from predation if they are in a social group. Also as they rest in open top areas during the day this also leaves them more vulnerable to predation. Therefore taking into account these factors, the study used alarm calls of the Crested Coua and the Madagascar magpie robin, and aerial, terrestrial and agitation calls from the blue eyed black lemur which were played to the lemurs and any reactions were noted down. The lemurs showed increased vigilance following the alarm and aerial calls and in particular it was shown they could differentiate the aerial calls as they were seen to scan the skies after the call was made and did not look at the ground at all.

Although there was no reaction to the agitation calls, the scientists hypothesized that this was because animals show agitation calls during many different activities such as excitement over food and aggression amongst themselves.

Then using song calls as a method of control they then witnessed the levels of vigilance decrease amongst the lemurs as they correctly interpreted that if the other mammals are singing then there are no predators about.

One of the authors of the study Marc Holderied from the University of  Bristol released a statement about the study saying “Until our study, a solitary and nocturnal lemur species had never been tested to see if it could understand other species' alarm calls and differentiate between them,"

They are unsure as of the moment if this ability to differentiate between different mammals alarm calls is a learned behavior or if they can interpret specific tones from the call. This means that further research on these fascinating creatures is sure to follow, to be able to build up our knowledge on this species and hopefully prevent future extinction.

Find out about the Madagascar Wildlife Conservation N.G.O Internship Project

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