Despite small brains, gray mouse lemurs use calls to avoid inbreeding

Jeremy Hance
December 03, 2012

Gray mouse lemur in Madagascar. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Gray mouse lemur in Madagascar. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

As a small-brained and largely solitary primate, the gray mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus) wasn't supposed to have the capacity to distinguish the calls of its kin calls from other lemurs. However, a new open-access study in BMC Ecology, finds that a female gray mouse lemur is able to determine the mating calls of its father, allowing it avoid inbreeding. The discovery challenges the long-held belief that only large-brained, highly social animal are capable of determining kin from calls.

"This suggests that the mechanisms for kin recognition like those seen here may be the foundation from which more complex forms of kin-based sociality evolved," Sharon Kessler, lead author of the study, said in a press release. The discovery adds weight to the idea that social and intelligent primates may have evolved from solitary foragers like the gray mouse lemur.

As they forage at night, gray mouse lemurs were found to frequently make two types of calls: mating calls and alarms. By analyzing the calls, the researchers found that mating calls given by the males contained parental signatures, i.e. allowing female daughter to ignore these calls, whiel such signatures were absent in alarm calls.

The gray mouse lemur is the largest of the 'mouse lemurs,' which include the world's tiniest primates. The species is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List, making gray mouse lemurs one of the only lemurs not threatened with extinction; a recent assessment found that over 90 percent of the world's lemurs are imperiled. All lemurs are found on the island of Madagascar.

Gray mouse lemur. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Gray mouse lemur. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

CITATION: Sharon E Kessler, Marina Scheumann, Leanne T Nash and Elke Zimmermann. Paternal kin recognition in the high frequency ultrasonic range in a solitary foraging mammal. BMC Ecology. 2012.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (December 03, 2012).

Despite small brains, gray mouse lemurs use calls to avoid inbreeding.