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Antiphonal Vocalization of a Subterranean Rodent, the Naked Mole-Rat (Heterocephalus glaber)

Authors

  • Shigeto Yosida,

    1. Faculty of Letters and Graduate School of Science and Technology, Chiba University, Chiba, Japan
    2. Laboratory for Biolinguistics, Riken Brain Science Institute, Saitama, Japan
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  • Kohta I. Kobayasi,

    1. Faculty of Letters and Graduate School of Science and Technology, Chiba University, Chiba, Japan
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  • Maki Ikebuchi,

    1. Faculty of Letters and Graduate School of Science and Technology, Chiba University, Chiba, Japan
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  • Ryoko Ozaki,

    1. Faculty of Letters and Graduate School of Science and Technology, Chiba University, Chiba, Japan
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  • Kazuo Okanoya

    1. Faculty of Letters and Graduate School of Science and Technology, Chiba University, Chiba, Japan
    2. Laboratory for Biolinguistics, Riken Brain Science Institute, Saitama, Japan
    3. Japan Science and Technology Agency, Honmachi, Kawaguchi, Saitama, Japan
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Kazuo Okanoya, Laboratory for Biolinguistics, RIKEN Brain Science Institute, 2-1 Hirosawa, Wako-Shi, Saitama 351-0198, Japan.
E-mail: okanoya@brain.riken.jp

Abstract

Acoustic signalling is one of the most common communication mediums in a broad range of social animals, and it often encodes attributes of the signaller such as sex, kin relatedness and dominance rank. Particularly, antiphonal vocalization has been regarded to have an important function in animals living in an environment where visual cues are unreliable. Antiphony enables to acknowledge that one's signal was received with certainty. We show the first evidence of such acoustic signals among rodents: the naked mole-rat. The society of this eusocial subterranean species is organized hierarchically according to body size. Naked mole-rats are functionally blind, and rely highly on acoustic communication. We focused on one of their vocalizations: the soft chirp (SC). SCs are the most frequent sounds, and are often emitted upon physical contact. We expected the SC to be antiphonal, and if so, SC may function to distinguish colony members from intruders, and/or identify social rank and individuality. To examine our predictions, we placed pairs of individuals of different size together, and recorded their vocal behaviour. The intervals between the SCs of two individuals were shorter than expected intervals which were based on the assumption that animals vocalized without reference of the preceding SC. The acoustic properties of SCs varied among individuals according to body weight and colony of origin. The emission rate was positively related to the relative difference in body weight. Therefore, SCs have an antiphonal nature and may function as expected. These characteristics of SC were highly similar to those of antiphonal sounds in other social species.

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