, Volume 100, Issue 3, pp 275–279 | Cite as

Social partner discrimination based on sounds and scents in Asian small-clawed otters (Aonyx cinereus)

  • A. Lemasson
  • M.-A. Mikus
  • C. Blois-Heulin
  • T. Lodé
Short Communication


Ability to discriminate familiar conspecifics is an essential competence in any group-living species, ensuring socio-spatial cohesion, but in many animals, such as mustelids, the relative importance of the different communicative modalities for discrimination is poorly understood. In otters, there is evidence of intra-specific variation in physical appearance and in feces chemical profile, but the potential for acoustic identity coding as well as for identity decoding in visual, acoustic and olfactive domains remains unexplored. We investigated the acoustic structure of contact calls in five captive groups of small-clawed otters and found that it is possible to reliably assign one particular call to a given adult male caller. Females discriminated between familiar and unfamiliar adult males based on their sound (playback) and smell (feces) but not based on their picture, suggesting abilities to memorize and use acoustic and olfactive signatures in their daily social life.


Individual acoustic variability Auditory discrimination Olfactory discrimination Visual discrimination Playback Mustelids 



This study was funded by the French Ministry of Research, the C.N.R.S. and the ‘Institut Universitaire de France’. We thank the staff of the French zoos for their logistical support. We are grateful to Françoise Cardou for correcting our English.

Supplementary material

114_2013_1022_MOESM1_ESM.pptx (349 kb)
ESM 1 Example of pictures from three male small-clawed otter subjects used as visual stimuli. Those pictures were used as social visual stimuli to simulate the presence of a familiar or unfamiliar male in the enclosure of the female subject. Animals displayed comparable postures (body showing its right side with head facing). Images were printed on HD paper at 1:1 size ratio, cut to shape and mounted on a stand-alone cardboard cut-out. (PPTX 349 kb)
114_2013_1022_MOESM2_ESM.docx (19 kb)
ESM 2 Acoustic characteristics of adult male small-clawed otters’ contact calls. We measured the contact calls of five adult males (M1–M5) and found that they varied in their temporal and frequency values. The acoustic variable measured were duration of the call (Dt), duration of the silent break (Ds), number of harmonics (H), fundamental frequency at the beginning (F0beg), end (F0end) and top (F0max) of the call, dominant frequency where the intensity was the highest (Fdom). The mean ± SE value of each acoustic variable is given in each cell for the five male subjects. (DOCX 18 kb)
114_2013_1022_MOESM3_ESM.pptx (94 kb)
ESM 3 Graphical representation (a) and statistical results (b) of the discriminant functional analysis used to test the reliability of the call-to-caller assignment in male small-clawed otters. The discriminant functional analysis was done used 100 calls (20 per male) as a training sample and 100 other calls as a test sample. Definition of the acoustic variables correlated with functions 1 and 2: duration of the call (Dt), number of harmonics (H), fundamental frequency at the beginning (F0beg), end (F0end) and top (F0max) of the call. (PPTX 93 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. Lemasson
    • 1
    • 2
  • M.-A. Mikus
    • 1
  • C. Blois-Heulin
    • 1
  • T. Lodé
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratoire d’éthologie animale et humaine, UMR 6552Université de Rennes 1–C.N.R.S.PaimpontFrance
  2. 2.Institut Universitaire de FranceParisFrance

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