Recordings Show Some ‘Silent’ Animals Communicate Vocally: Study

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Paris (AFP) – A study published Tuesday shows that more than 50 animal species previously thought to be silent actually communicate vocally, and suggests the trait may have evolved in a common ancestor more than 400 million years ago.

The study’s lead author, evolutionary biologist Gabriel Gorwich-Cohen, told AFP he first came up with the idea of ​​recording an apparently silent species while searching for turtles in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.

“When I got home, I decided to start registering my pets,” Jorgewich-Cohen said. This included Homer, a tortoise he has had since childhood.

Much to his excitement, he discovered that Homer and his other pet turtles were making screeching noises.

So he started recording other species of turtle, using a microphone, and sometimes a microphone for underwater recording.

“All the species I recorded were producing sounds,” said Jorgewich-Cohen, a researcher at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

“Then we started wondering how many animals usually make silent sounds.”

In addition to the 50 species of turtles, the study published in Nature Communications also included recordings of three “very strange animals” that are considered silent, he said.

They include a species of lungfish, which has gills and lungs that allow it to stay on land, and a species of caecilian frog – a group of amphibians that resembles a cross between a snake and a worm.

The research team also recorded a rare species of reptile found only in New Zealand called the tuatara, the only surviving member of an order called Rhynchocealia that once swept the world.

All animals made vocal sounds such as clicks, chirps, or tonal sounds, even if they weren’t very loud or were only making a few times a day.

common vocal ancestor

The research team combined their findings with data on the evolutionary history of vocal communication for 1,800 other species.

Then they used an analysis called “ancestral state reconstruction,” which calculates the probability of the co-relationship returning over time.

It was previously believed that tetrapods – animals with four limbs – and lungfishes developed vocal communication separately.

“But now we’re showing the opposite,” said Georgiewish Cohen. They come from the same place.

“What we found is that the common ancestor of this group was actually producing sounds and communicating using these sounds on purpose,” Georgiowicz Cohen.

The study said the common ancestor lived at least 407 million years ago, during the Paleozoic Era.

The suggestion that “vocal communication originated in the common ancestor of lungfish and tetrapods is exciting and surprising,” said John Wiens, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona in the US who was not involved in the research.

Wiens, who published a research paper in 2020 called “The Origins of Vocal Communication in Vertebrates,” welcomed the new data for the additional species.

But he noted that the study may not “necessarily distinguish between animals that make sounds and actual vocal communication.”

Jorgewich-Cohen said researchers have already set out to identify animal sounds specifically designed for communication, by comparing video and audio recordings to find a match for a specific behavior.

They also recorded the animals in different groups, he said, “so that we can see if there are sounds that are only produced in specific situations.”

He admitted that some species are difficult to study because they do not vocalize frequently and “tend to be shy,” adding that more research is needed.

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