Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 64, Issue 6, pp 989–1000

Production and perception of situationally variable alarm calls in wild tufted capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella nigritus)

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00265-010-0914-3

Cite this article as:
Wheeler, B.C. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2010) 64: 989. doi:10.1007/s00265-010-0914-3


Many mammalian and avian species produce conspicuous vocalizations upon encountering a predator, but vary their calling based on risk urgency and/or predator type. Calls falling into the latter category are termed “functionally referential” if they also elicit predator-appropriate reactions in listeners. Functionally referential alarm calling has been well documented in a number of Old World monkeys and lemurs, but evidence among Neotropical primates is limited. This study investigates the alarm call system of tufted capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella nigritus) by examining responses to predator and snake decoys encountered at various distances (reflecting differences in risk urgency). Observations in natural situations were conducted to determine if predator-associated calls were given in additional contexts. Results indicate the use of three call types. “Barks” are elicited exclusively by aerial threats, but the call most commonly given to terrestrial threats (the “hiccup”) is given in nonpredatory contexts. The rate in which this latter call is produced reflects risk urgency. Playbacks of these two call types indicate that each elicits appropriate antipredator behaviors. The third call type, the “peep,” seems to be specific to terrestrial threats, but it is unknown if the call elicits predator-specific responses. “Barks” are thus functionally referential aerial predator calls, while “hiccups” are better seen as generalized disturbance calls which reflect risk urgency. Further evidence is needed to draw conclusions regarding the “peep.” These results add to the evidence that functionally referential aerial predator alarm calls are ubiquitous in primates, but that noncatarrhine primates use generalized disturbance calls in response to terrestrial threats.


Functionally referential signals Urgency Playback experiments Antipredator behaviors Communication Deception New World primates 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Interdepartmental Doctoral Program in Anthropological SciencesStony Brook UniversityStony BrookUSA