Lemurs sing in sync — until one tries to go solo


Among a group of singing lemurs called indris, pitch varies between males and females, but songs typically start on a high note and then descend, researchers have found. 

Giovanna Bonadonna/Univ. of Turin

In a chorus of indris, young males vie for the spotlight, riffing in alternation rather than singing in unison. Not content to be the Joey Fatone of the group, these guys strive for Justin Timberlake status. 

Indris (Indri indri), the only singing lemur species, begin their songs with roars that descend into long, phrased howls. These choirs are composed of males and females, with one dominant pair. Marco Gamba of the University of Turin in Italy and his colleagues wanted to analyze variation among individual singers.

Listening to 496 indri songs recorded over 10 years in the dense forests of Madagascar, the team found that pitch varies between males and females. And indri groups typically sing in synchrony, amplifying their tunes and vocally marking their territory to other groups. When one singer starts to croon, the others join in and match rhythm.

Solos are rare, but young male singers tend to sing out of sync — probably to stand out and advertise their masculinity, Gamba and his colleagues propose June 14 in Frontiers in Neuroscience

Watch an indri sing in the Maromizaha Forest in Madagascar.Giovanna Bonadonna, University of Turin

Helen Thompson is the multimedia editor. She has undergraduate degrees in biology and English from Trinity University and a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University.

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