Animals may have more to say for themselves than most people think, a new study suggests.
Scientists found that the monosyllabic call of the banded mongoose is structured in a similar way to vowels and consonants in human speech.
They believe the same is true for sounds made by other animals, including frogs and bats.
The researchers analysed calls made by wild mongooses at a research station in Uganda.
Each call, which can be viewed as a single “syllable”, lasts just 50 to 150 milliseconds, yet consists of different structural sounds, the study found.
Watching the behaviour of the mongooses revealed hidden meaning in the calls.
“The initial sound of the call provides information on the identity of the animal calling,” said scientist Dr David Jansen, from the University of Zurich in Switzerland.
The second, more tonal and vowel-like, part of the call indicated the caller’s activity, he added.
The researchers, whose work is reported in the journal BMC Biology, are convinced the banded mongoose is not the only animal capable of structuring syllables.
They believe the phenomenon has been overlooked until now. Frogs and bats also structure single syllables, they point out.
“The example of banded mongooses shows that so-called simple animal sound expressions might be far more complex than was previously thought possible,” said the scientists.
Banded mongooses are small predators that live in social communities and are related to the meerkat.
Groups of around 20 adult animals look after offspring, defend territory and forage for food.
Young mongooses bond with adult animals that escort them on foraging missions, recognising the individual by its call. …