60-Second Science

Upbleat Finding: Kids Start to Sound Alike over Time

Baby goats learn to bleat just like the kids they hang out with. Christopher Intagliata reports

The sounds many animals make are determined by their genes—they don't have to learn them. Humans, on the other hand, have all sorts of languages and accents, stuff we pick up from those around us. We're not alone. Whales, elephants, songbirds and bats also listen and learn.

Now there's literally a new kid on the block: goats. Because baby goats learn to bleat just like the kids they hang out with. So finds a study in the journal Animal Behaviour. [Elodie Briefer and Alan G. McElligott, Social effects on vocal ontogeny in an ungulate, the goat, Capra hircus]

Researchers studied four groups of pygmy goat kids on an English farm—all with the same father, to minimize genetic differences. They recorded the kids' bleats at one week old and at five weeks, then analyzed those calls. And they found that kids raised within the same group started to sound similar over time, like this: [two goat sounds] or this [two other goat sounds]. Compare that to these two kids, who grew up apart: [two different goat sounds]. Hear the difference?

If you were a goat, the authors say, those different 'accents' might be a good way to identify outsiders. Then again, if you had trouble keeping track of who's who, don't let it get your goat. I kid!

—Christopher Intagliata

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.] 

Goat sounds courtesy of Elodie Briefer , Queen Mary University of London

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