Scientists stunned when 53 silent species make sounds

Just when it was assumed that a large number of species were not producing sound, the silence was broken much to the delight and surprise of scientists. For a long time, it was quick to say that dogs bark and cows moo, but no one, according to an article in smithsonianmag.com, could definitively say what sound turtles make.

A new study published in Nature Communication found that there were 53 animals that communicated through vocalization when they were supposed to be silent.

Speaking to BBC News about the research, co-author Gabriel Jorgewich-Cohen said: “We know when a bird sings. You don’t need anyone to tell you what it is. But some of these animals are very quiet or make a sound every other day.

Jorgewich-Cohen, an evolutionary biologist at the Swiss University of Zurich while studying turtles in the Amazon rainforest, wondered if scientists were wrong to assume these creatures didn’t talk.

On returning home, he listened to their vocalizations, including that of Homer, his pet turtle that he had owned since childhood.

A pleasant surprise greeted him when he recorded many sounds made by his pet turtles. Encouraged by this, he began looking at other species considered unvocal.

Besides the sounds of 50 species of turtles, Jorgewich-Cohen also recorded those of tuatara, a lizard-like reptile; Cayenne caecilian, a worm-like amphibian; and an air-breathing South American lungfish. All of these animals emitted various sounds, including chirps, growls, clicks and sniffles. Like other beings, some of them were talkative and many talked after 10 o’clock. Almost all had never been recorded before.

Underwater cameras were used to capture their behavior in order to link it to each vocalization. Male species have been found to often use them to chase females or when locking horns with other males. Many also made sounds to defend their territory.

The research pointed out that among choanate vertebrates, acoustic communication originated from a common ancestor that existed 407 million years ago. To reach this conclusion, the researchers combined the new data with a study done in the past on the evolutionary history of acoustic communication in 1,800 other species.

Based on their analysis of the family tree, it was suggested that the common ancestor may be Eoactinistia foreyi, a lobe-finned fish that existed in Devonian times.

Highlighting this aspect, Jorgewich-Cohen told AFP: “What we found was that the common ancestor of this group already produced sounds and communicated using those sounds intentionally.”

Many disagree with this study because in 2020 researchers said that acoustic communication evolved independently in various species and that this process repeated itself over the last 100 to 200 million years. Some say that the sounds of 53 species may not qualify as communication.

More research needs to be done in this area to come to concrete conclusions.

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