“Eagle – below you!” New monkey alarm cries discovered

Tuesday 17 September 2013
A titi monkey

A University of Salford researcher is part of a team that has identified a Brazilian monkey that calls out both the direction and species of a predator to alert other members of the troop – the first time these two elements have been seen together.

Professor Robert Young, alongside colleagues from St Andrews University and the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland visited a nature reserve which is inhabited by five titi monkey groups.  At the site they placed a stuffed caracara (a bird of prey) and an oncilla (a type of cat) and monitored the different calls the monkeys made when they saw them.

When confronted by the caracara, the monkeys gave out a certain call which varied as they moved it from the treetops to the ground. Sighting the oncilla produced a different sound and this also changed when the cat was moved to other levels of the forest.

Overall messages were made up of A and B calls in different combinations and by analysing the recordings against the type and position and species of predator, the team was able to detect a distinct pattern.

This pattern was repeated across all of the groups in the reserve in the same way.  While alarm cries for different species have been observed before, this discovery represents the first time that non-humans have been shown to combine both location and species in a warning. 

It’s also the first time that alarm calls have been noted in New World monkeys, leading the team to speculate that this behaviour originates from the time before Africa and America split.

Professor Young said: “These monkeys have a distinct edge when it comes to predators as their alarm calls allow them to respond more appropriately.

“The discovery of these calls also opens up possibilities for our understanding of how animals communicate and the origins of our own languages.”

The paper was originally published in the journal Biology Letters. It can be viewed here: http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/9/5/20130535

You can view more images of the monkeys here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/salforduniversity/

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