Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 62, Issue 2, pp 181–191 | Cite as

Pups crying bass: vocal adaptation for avoidance of age-dependent predation risk in ground squirrels?

  • Vera A. Matrosova
  • Ilya A. Volodin
  • Elena V. Volodina
  • Andrey F. Babitsky
Original Paper


In most mammals, larger adult body size correlates with lower fundamental frequency and more closely spaced formants in vocalizations relative to juveniles. In alarm whistles of two free-living rodents, the speckled ground squirrel Spermophilus suslicus and yellow ground squirrel S. fulvus, these cues to body size were absent despite prominent differences in body weight and skull and larynx sizes between juveniles and adults. No significant correlations were found between the individual maximum fundamental frequency and body weight, both within age classes and for pooled samples of all animals within species. Furthermore, the mean alarm whistle maximum fundamental frequencies did not differ significantly between age classes (juvenile versus adult) in the speckled squirrel and were even significantly lower in juvenile yellow squirrels. We discuss the hypothesis that the obfuscation of vocal differences between juvenile and adult squirrels may represent a special adaptation of pup vocal behaviour—a form of “vocal mimicry,” resulting in imitation of adult vocal pattern to avoid infanticide and age-dependent predation risk.


Spermophilus suslicus Spermophilus fulvus Alarm call Vocal mimicry Infanticide Antipredator behaviour 



We thank S.A. Schilova, A.V. Tchabovsky, L.E. Savinetskaya, N.A. Stukolova, and V.S. Popov for collaboration in the field, and M.M. Nagaylik, D.I. Volodina and A.I. Volodin for help with data collection. We sincerely appreciate the assistance of F.J. Dzerjinsky, V.S. Lebedev, and O.G. Iltchenko with the morphological part of our study. We thank A.A. Nikol’skii, O.A. Filatova, T. Riede, and R. Frey for valuable comments and are sincerely grateful to J.F. Hare, D. Blumstein, and an anonymous referee, whose comments were useful and inspiring. This study was supported by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (grant 06-04-48400). During our work, we adhered to the Guidelines for the Use of Animals in Research (Animal Behaviour, 2006, 71: 245–253) and to the laws of Russian Federation, the country where the research was conducted.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vera A. Matrosova
    • 1
  • Ilya A. Volodin
    • 1
    • 2
  • Elena V. Volodina
    • 2
  • Andrey F. Babitsky
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Faculty of BiologyLomonosov Moscow State UniversityMoscowRussia
  2. 2.Scientific Research DepartmentMoscow ZooMoscowRussia
  3. 3.Severtsov Institute of Ecology and EvolutionRussian Academy of SciencesMoscowRussia

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