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Ground-Cuckoos Have Learned How To Mimic The Sound Of Their Predators

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Acoustic communication is particularly important in environments such as dense tropical forests, where the dim light constrains the efficacy of visual signals.

In these environments, complex species interactions could promote the evolution of acoustic signals and result in intriguing patterns of mimicry and convergence.

In the Neotropical region, Neomorphus ground-cuckoos frequently associate with herds of collared peccaries and white-lipped peccaries.

Bill clacking behavior in ground-cuckoos closely resembles the sound of teeth clacking in peccaries and these acoustic signals are used in agonistic and foraging contexts in both species.

Here we demonstrate that the acoustic characteristics of bill clacking in ground-cuckoos are more similar to teeth clacking of peccaries than to bill clacking of the more closely related Geococcyx roadrunner.

We propose that two hypotheses may explain the evolution of the clacking behavior in these taxa.


First, because peccaries are known to successfully ward off attacks from large predators to defend their herds, mimicking their clacking can deceive predators, either by triggering clacking from nearby peccaries, or making it appear to the predators that peccaries are present when they are not.

Second, ground-cuckoos and peccaries could mutually benefit from the use of similar signals to alert each other of the presence of predators. In this context, ground-cuckoos could serve as sentinels while peccaries could confer protection.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

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