Black and White Colobus Monkey (Colobus guereza) Roars as a Source of Both Honest and Exaggerated Information About Body Mass


Tara R. Harris, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, 04103 Leipzig, Germany.


Formant dispersion, the average spacing, in Hz, between the resonant frequencies of a vocalization, has been predicted to provide honest information about signaler body size. Previous descriptions of black and white colobus monkey (Colobus guereza, “guereza”) roars, however, suggest a formant dispersion that is far lower than expected for an animal its size, and could effectively exaggerate its body size. Nonetheless, recent research on red deer shows that even when the formant positions of vocalizations effectively exaggerate body size, they may still provide honest cues within a species. We investigate whether the frequency bands observed in the spectrograms of guereza roars represent formants, and whether roar formant dispersion and/or individual formants provide honest information about body size (specifically, body mass) relative to conspecifics, although perhaps not relative to other species. We document coordinated vertical movements in the frequency bands of guereza roars and show that these bands move independently of fundamental frequency, indicating that they represent formants. We show, for captive adult male guerezas, that signaler body mass significantly predicts roar formant dispersion, even for randomly selected calls. Body mass also predicts formants 2 and 3, but the relationships are not as strong as with formant dispersion. Our roar formant dispersion calculations predict a vocal tract length of approx. 29 cm, but anatomically determined guereza vocal tract length is much smaller: approx. 7–8 cm. Videotaped roars revealed no laryngeal movement during roars, but rather inflation of the subhyoid air sac. We measured the volume of this air sac (approx. 10 cm3) and speculate that it may function in roars to exaggerate body size, relative to other species.