Singing lemurs have rhythm just like humans, study finds

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You may have heard a primate howl but have you heard a song?

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Most of the species that make up the animal world may not be known for their beautiful warts and trills — times, of course, birds — but researchers in Madagascar have found that it’s not just humans and avian species that have intrinsic musical quality: Some primates do too.

In particular, lemurs boast a trait that is rare in non-human mammals – the talus.


A 12-year study of rainforest-dwelling primates on an Indian Ocean island revealed that the critically endangered indriyas’ harmonious duet and chorus—which sound like high-pitched squeaks to the human ear, or unintentionally , a balloon that bleeds through the air – includes the same rhythm found in human song.

Listening to members of the lemur’s family group sing together, as they do in the wild, the researchers found that the primates had clear rhythms—that is, intervals between sounds with equal duration (either 1:1 or double the duration). 1: 2).

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“There has been a long-standing interest in understanding how human music evolved, but musicality is not limited to humans alone,” said Andrea Ravignani of the Dutch Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, one of the senior investigators on the international research team.

“Looking for musical characteristics in other species allows us to build an ‘evolutionary tree’ of musical traits, and to understand how rhythm abilities originated and evolved in humans.”

indrie lemurs singing

The black-and-white-coated Indri indri, also known as the babakoto, are one of the largest living lemurs – and one of the few singing primates.

Over a decade, a team co-led by Marco Gamba of the University of Turin studied the musical abilities of primates, recording the songs of 39 animals living in 20 different groups.

He found that sense songs had classic rhythmic ranges (1:1 and 1:2) as well as ritardando, which is a gradual slowing down within a piece of music.

Male and female songs had a different tempo but showed the same rhythmic characteristics.

The team said that their ability to communicate with familiar rhythms may have evolved independently of our own singing ability, as the last common ancestor between humans and the senses lived 77.5 million years ago.

The researchers suggested that the rhythm may make it easier for lemurs to learn, construct and process songs.

Ms. Ravignani said her team will further turn her attention to other elements of lemurs – and songs of other species.

“We wanted to look for evidence from others, including an underlying ‘repetitive’ beet and a hierarchical organization of beets, in Indriya and other species,” she said.


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