Red-handed tamarins copy other monkeys’ accents when they enter their territory, scientists learn

Research suggest vocal change used to ‘potentially avoid conflict’

Rory Sullivan
Thursday 27 May 2021 08:59 BST
A pair of pied tamarins are pictured at a zoo in Mulhouse, France, in July 2011.
A pair of pied tamarins are pictured at a zoo in Mulhouse, France, in July 2011. (AFP via Getty Images)
Leer en Español

One species of monkey in the Brazilian Amazon impersonates another’s accent, possibly to prevent territorial disputes, scientists have found.

Researchers made the discovery while studying the behaviour of 15 groups of tamarin monkeys in Brazil.

Although the species are difficult to tell apart, scientists heard the same sound being made across parts of the forest they cohabit.

This led to the realisation that red-handed tamarins were impersonating the long calls made by pied tamarins when they entered the other primates’ territory.

Tainara Sobroza, the lead researcher who works at Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazonia, said: “We found that only the red-handed tamarins change their calls to those of the pied tamarins, and this only happens in places where they occur together.”

“Why their calls converge in this way is not certain, but it is possibly to help with identification when defending territory or competing over resources,” she added.

Jacob Dunn, who teaches evolutionary biology at Anglia Ruskin University, also worked on the project.

He said their study was the first to show “asymmetric call convergence in primates”, whereby one species used another’s “‘lingua franca’”.

Mr Dunn suggested this was advantageous “to help these tiny primates identify one another more easily in dense forest and potentially avoid conflict”.

Red-handed tamarins have a greater vocal range and call more than pied tamarins, who are critically endangered and largely live near the Brazilian city of Manaus.

The research about these species’ calls is published in the Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology journal.

Additional reporting by Reuters

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in