16 February 2012
Goat kids can develop 'accents'
By Ella Davies
Reporter, BBC Nature
Kids develop accents that sound like those of their social group
Pygmy goats can develop "accents" as they grow older, according to scientists.
The young animals, known as "kids", are raised in groups or "creches" with goats of a similar age.
Researchers found that when young goats mixed in these social groups their calls became more similar.
The animals join an elite group of mammals known to adapt a vocal sound in response to the environment that includes humans, bats and whales.
Dr Elodie Briefer and Dr Alan McElligott from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at the University of London, UK published their results in the journal Animal Behaviour.
In order to test the goats' vocal repertoire they recorded calls at one-week-old and again when they were aged five weeks.
"Five weeks corresponds to the time when, in the wild, they join their social group after spending some time hidden in vegetation to avoid predators," Dr Briefer explained.
"We found that genetically-related kids produced similar calls... but the calls of kids raised in the same social groups were also similar to each other, and became more similar as the kids grew older."
"This suggests that goat kids modify their calls according to their social surroundings, developing similar 'accents'."
Dr Briefer suggested that the social structure of the goats could be the motivator behind the convergence in calls.
"This could act as a 'group member badge' allowing them to identify members of the group, differentiate them from members of other groups, and increase group cohesion," she told BBC Nature.
"This is especially important in goats, because they live in complex social groups that split during the day and come back together at night."
Scientists suggest that the ability to modify a sound rather than making calls limited by genetics could be more widespread than previously thought.