Monkey’s Alarm Calls Reveal Predator’s Who and Where

Sep 11, 2013

Listen very carefully in the rainforests of Brazil and you might hear a series of quiet, high-pitched squeaks. These are the alarm calls of the black-fronted titi (Callicebus nigrifrons), a monkey with a rusty-brown tail that lives in small family units. The cries are loaded with information.


Cristiane Cäsar, a biologist at the University of St Andrews, UK, and her colleagues report that the titis mix and match two distinct calls to tell each other about the type of predator that endangers them, as well as the location of the threat. Her results are published in Biology Letters.

Cäsar's team worked with five groups of titis that live in a private nature reserve in the Minas Gerais region of Brazil. When the researchers placed a stuffed caracara — a bird of prey — in the treetops, the titis gave out A-calls, which have a rising pitch. When the animals saw a ground-based threat — represented by an oncilla, a small spotted cat — they produced B-calls, sounds with a falling pitch.

However, when the team moved the predator models around, the monkeys tweaked their calls. If the caracara was on the ground, the monkeys started with at least four A-calls before adding B-calls into the mix. If the oncilla was in a tree, the monkeys made a single introductory A-call before switching to B-calls.

Written By: Ed Yong and Nature magazine
continue to source article at scientificamerican.com

0 comments on “Monkey’s Alarm Calls Reveal Predator’s Who and Where

  • 1
    peter salole says:

    I cant wait to see a Documentary that could show the KIND of progression from this ( well the equivalent in our ancestry ) to our language today…such a fascinating subject … it would have be dramatised with speculation like the BBC ‘Walking with… ‘ Series but I would love to see it 🙂

    Hint hint Mr Steven Pinker ?



    Report abuse

  • 4
    Alan4discussion says:

    @link – They are also the first New World monkeys to show signs of a primitive syntax, he adds. Until now, only apes and Old World monkeys were known to combine individual elements in different orders to convey distinct meanings. The latest discovery suggests that simple syntactic rules may have preceded the split of these two lineages some 40 million years ago.

    As studies continue the various forms of animal languages are being recorded.

    David Attenborough – The Life of Mammals – 9 –
    Different tamarin species are shown co-operating to alert each other to the presence of a common predator, a tayra. Monkeys have good colour vision, and howler monkeys use it to select non-toxic leaves to eat. Attenborough travels through the African jungle with an alliance of species: several types of monkey and even mongooses combine to watch out for danger. They have a different alarm call for each enemy and Attenborough demonstrates this by placing a stuffed leopard nearby.



    Report abuse

  • 5
    bluebird says:

    team plans to play recordings of the different sequences back to the titis to see how they react

    What reaction would the monkeys have to the sequences played backwards…

    Hearing backward played music/voice bugs the s*** out of me. Are we the only primate that it affects?



    Report abuse

  • In reply to #1 by Petersalole:

    I cant wait to see a Documentary that could show the KIND of progression from this ( well the equivalent in our ancestry ) to our language today…such a fascinating subject … it would have be dramatised with speculation like the BBC ‘Walking with… ‘ Series but I would love to see it 🙂

    Being able to tell others what and where predators are will be a really useful adaptation. In a few millennia they’ll be able to say, “Quick scarper! there’s a fucking priest coming”.



    Report abuse

Leave a Reply

View our comment policy.