857874138

857874138

Indri indri, also called the babakoto, is the largest lemurs of Madagascar

Photo by: Pierre-Yves Babelon

Pierre-Yves Babelon

Lemurs Can Sing with Rhythm

Researchers found the first nonhuman animal that can keep a beat.

November 22, 2021

Indri indri are a critically endangered species of lemur found in the forests of Madagascar. The largest of the lemur species at 24-28 inches long, the indri is covered in black and white fur. Active during the day, these animals climb trees and feed on a variety of leaves, fruit, flowers, and other vegetation native to Madagascar’s landscape.

Dr. Andrea Ravignani, a Dutch cognitive biologist, and a team of researchers tracked the lineage of humans and indris back to their last common ancestor– who walked the earth more than 77 million years ago. It turns out, our two species have more in common than we think… especially when it comes to singing.

In a study published in Current Biology, Dr. Ravignani and his colleagues explore the evolutionary origins of musical rhythm.

851790986

851790986

Young Indri Lemur on a tree.

Photo by: Massimo_S8

Massimo_S8

Young Indri Lemur on a tree.

Rhythm in other animals has been a topic of discussion for scientists because findings could provide insight into our own musical evolution. Lemurs are not the first animals thought to have rhythm– there have been findings in other organisms like parakeets, Snowball the cockatoo, and Ronan the California sea lion.

“Only a few primate species sing, so they are precious resources in our search for the evolutionary origins of human musicality,” said Dr. Aniruddh Patel of Tufts University.

Scientists from Madagascar and the University of Turin recorded the songs of 39 lemurs from 20 indri groups over a period of 12 years. Pouring over the songs, the researchers found the presence of rhythmic features also found in human songs.

1282006148

1282006148

An Indri lemur, the first nonhuman mammal discovered to have rhythm.

Photo by: Cavan Images

Cavan Images

An Indri lemur, the first nonhuman mammal discovered to have rhythm.

The study found both a 1:1 rhythm, where intervals between sounds are the same length, and a 1:2 rhythm, where the second interval is twice as long as the first one, present in the lemur’s songs. They also noticed the presence of “ritardando,” a musical feature categorized by a gradual decrease in tempo, suggesting lemurs have a sense of beat.

“When you’re listening to a musical piece and dancing to it, you’re basically processing this very complex stream of sounds, extracting some regularities from it, and then predicting what’s coming next,” Dr. Ravignani said. “If an indri had some sort of metronome in its head going ‘tac, tac, tac,’ then they would likely produce what we see. It’s so close to human music — it’s quite astonishing.”

This marks the first time categorical rhythm has been found in a nonhuman mammal. It’s unknown whether human and indris’ shared ear for music is the result of a common ancestor or convergent evolution. Researchers suspect it’s a combination of the two.

Next Up

Tuskless Elephants Evolved to Escape Poachers

Unnatural selection: After being targeted by ivory poachers in Mozambique, elephants are being born without tusks at an increasing rate.

How Spider Geckos Survive in the World’s Hottest Desert

Missone's spider geckos live in earth’s hottest landscape– Iran’s Lut Desert. What is the key to their survival?

Using DNA to Reunite an Orphaned Elephant with her Mother

After villagers found a tiny elephant wandering alone, scientists began the search for her mother using DNA matching technology.

Giraffes Have Daycares, Lunch Buddies, and Yearslong Relationships

Scientists discovered that giraffes are actually a highly complex social species, on par with elephants and chimpanzees.

There’s a Black Rhino Baby Boom in Zimbabwe

Finally, a success story for the critically endangered animal.

The ‘Immortal’ Plant Tells Its Tale

A plant with two leaves has the power to live up to 1,000 years in a rowdy desert...is there really such a thing?

The Untold Journey of the African House Gecko's Treck across the Atlantic Ocean

Reptile roadtrip? How the African house gecko traveled from Africa across to the Americas.

Bat Pups Babble like Babies

Baby greater sac-winged bats show similarities to human babies in the way they string together syllabus before they can learn to “talk.”

Bee Swarm Kills 63 Endangered Penguins

A colony of penguins near Cape Town, South Africa, was found dead after being attacked by a swarm of bees.

What Fat Bears and Astronauts Have in Common

The mysteries around hibernating bears have intrigued curious children and researchers alike for ages. What is hibernation, what causes it and aren’t bears too big to truly hibernate? And probably most interestingly - could humans do this someday?