Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 170, Issue 1, pp 13–21

Seismic signal transmission between burrows of the Cape mole-rat, Georychus capensis


  • Peter M. Narins
    • Department of BiologyUniversity of California
  • O. J. Reichman
    • Division of BiologyKansas State University
  • Jennifer U. M. Jarvis
    • Zoology DepartmentUniversity of Cape Town
  • Edwin R. Lewis
    • Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer SciencesUniversity of California

DOI: 10.1007/BF00190397

Cite this article as:
Narins, P.M., Reichman, O.J., Jarvis, J.U.M. et al. J Comp Physiol A (1992) 170: 13. doi:10.1007/BF00190397


Both seismic and auditory signals were tested for their propagation characteristics in a field study of the Cape mole-rat (Georychus capensis), a subterranean rodent in the family Bathyergidae. This solitary animal is entirely fossorial and apparently communicates with its conspecifics by alternately drumming its hind legs on the burrow floor. Signal production in this species is sexually dimorphic, and mate attraction is likely mediated primarily by seismic signalling between individuals in neighboring burrows. Measurements within, and at various distances away from, natural burrows suggest that seismic signals propagate at least an order of magnitude better than auditory signals. Moreover, using a mechanical thumper which could be triggered from a tape recording of the mole-rat's seismic signals, we established that the vertically-polarized surface wave (Rayleigh wave) propagates with less attenuation than either of the two horizontally-polarized waves. Thus, we tentatively hypothesize that Rayleigh waves subserve intraspecific communication in this species.

Key words

Seismic signalsMole-ratCommunicationFootdrummingGeorychus



pulses per min


simulated burrow


standard deviation


sound pressure level

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© Springer-Verlag 1992