Goat kids can develop accents

Feb 15, 2012

The ability to change vocal sounds (vocal plasticity) and develop an accent is potentially far more widespread in mammals than previously believed, according to new research on goats from Queen Mary, University of London.

Vocal plasticity is the ability of an individual to modify the sound of their voice according to their . Humans benefit from an extreme form of vocal plasticity which allows us to produce a wide range of sounds and accents, but in most other (except, for example, bats and ) vocalisations were thought to be genetically determined, with very limited flexibility and ability to learn.

Dr Elodie Briefer and Dr Alan McElligott from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences investigated genetic and social effects on goat kid calls.

The team studied four groups of pygmy goats, who were all full or half . They were recorded during two socially and ecologically distinct periods: at one week old, when they typically stay hidden from with their siblings; and at five weeks old, when they form with animals of the same age, known as 'crèches'.

Writing in the journal Animal Behaviour, the team report that despite their limited vocal repertoire, the calls of goat half-siblings became more similar when they were raised in the same social group together.

Dr Briefer explains: "We found that genetically related kids produced similar calls, which is not that surprising. But the calls of kids raised in the same social groups were also similar to each other, and became more similar as the kids grew older. This suggests that goat kids modify their calls according their social surroundings, developing similar 'accents'."

The existence of vocal plasticity in mammals such as goats reveals a possible early pathway in the evolution of vocal communication, which eventually led to human language and speech. Dr McElligott explains: "The research also highlights the important cognitive abilities that some of our domestic animals possess, and which have remained undetected until now. Improved knowledge of their behaviour and cognition provides essential information for improving animal welfare."

Explore further: Science casts light on sex in the orchard

More information: ‘Social effects on vocal ontogeny in an ungulate (Capra hircus),’ Animal Behaviour, February 16, 2012.

Related Stories

Mother and kid goat vocals strike a chord

May 11, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Mother and kid goats recognize each other’s calls soon after the mothers give birth, new research from Queen Mary, University of London reveals.

Meerkats have ability to distinguish different voices

Oct 13, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Vocal recognition is widespread in primates but a new study, published in Biology Letters, provides evidence that it may not be limited to humans and primates. The ability to recognize the vo ...

Honest deer every year

Apr 09, 2010

The vocalisations or 'groans' of male fallow deer provide rivals and potential mates with an honest account of the emitting animal's competitive abilities. A study, published in the open access journal BMC Biology, descri ...

Assessing safety through vocal cues

Apr 13, 2007

For the first time foraging birds have been shown to use vocal cues, rather than vision, to gain information on both the size of the group they are in and their spatial position within that group.

Recommended for you

Science casts light on sex in the orchard

17 hours ago

Persimmons are among the small club of plants with separate sexes—individual trees are either male or female. Now scientists at the University of California, Davis, and Kyoto University in Japan have discovered ...

Four new dragon millipedes found in China

19 hours ago

A team of speleobiologists from the South China Agriculture University and the Russian Academy of Sciences have described four new species of the dragon millipedes from southern China, two of which seem to ...

Scientist creates automatic birdsong recognition app

22 hours ago

Dr Dan Stowell, an EPSRC Research Fellow in QMUL's School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, has used a grant from Queen Mary Innovation to develop a prototype for an app that turns his research ...

New research reveals fish are smarter than we thought

23 hours ago

(Phys.org) —A new study from researchers in our Department of Psychology with colleagues at Queen Mary University of London has reported the first evidence that fish are able to process multiple objects ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.