During contests animals typically exchange information about fighting ability. Among feral horses these signals involve olfactory or acoustical elements and each type can effectively terminate contests before physical contact becomes necessary. Dung transplant experiments show that for stallions, irrespective of rank, olfactory signals such as dung sniffing encode information about familiarity suggesting that such signals can be used as signatures. As such they can provide indirect information about fighting ability as long as opponents associate identity with past performance. Play-back experiments, however, show that vocalizations, such as squeals, directly provide information about status regardless of stallion familiarity. Sonographs reveal that squeals of dominants are longer than those of subordinates and that only those of dominants have at their onset high-frequency components.
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Rubenstein, D.I., Hack, M.A. Horse signals: The sounds and scents of fury. Evol Ecol 6, 254–260 (1992). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02214165
- fighting ability
- individual identity