WTF Fun Fact 13478 – Dolphins May Use Parentese Voice

Do dolphin moms use baby talk, also known as a parentese voice? It’s hard to know for sure, but researchers think this might be the case.

What is a parentese voice?

Just like humans resort to baby talk when interacting with infants, bottlenose dolphins employ similar tactics. Studies indicate that bottlenose dolphin mothers alter their whistle pitches in the presence of their calves. This behavioral adjustment, often termed “parentese,” is thought to enhance calf attention, promoting bonding and facilitating vocal learning.

Every common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) establishes a unique whistle within the initial months of its existence. These distinctive whistles function as names, enabling dolphins to identify and keep track of each other in the vast waters, explains Laela Sayigh (in the article cited below), a marine biologist at the Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

However, interestingly, dolphin mothers seem to modify their whistles when interacting with their young ones. These calves typically stay with their mothers for three to six years, allowing ample opportunity for communication.

Sayigh initially noticed this modulation in motherly dolphin tunes during a 2009 study conducted by one of her students. The research didn’t delve deeper into this observation at the time. Recently, Sayigh and her colleagues revisited this phenomenon, analyzing signature whistles from 19 female dolphins, both in the presence and absence of their calves.

This study focused on a wild dolphin population residing near Sarasota Bay, Florida, a community that has been under scientific observation for over five decades. The scientists scrutinized 40 instances of each dolphin’s signature whistle, half of which were vocalized when their calf was nearby.

Analyzing the Dolphin Parentese Voice

The research unveiled that the mother dolphins employed a broader pitch range when their young ones were around. On average, the highest pitch was slightly higher, and the lowest pitch somewhat lower than when the calves were absent. These changes strikingly mirror the characteristics of human baby talk, claims Sayigh.

A comparison between dolphin whistles in the presence and absence of calves illustrates the pronounced change in pitch. Much like human caregivers, who use real words but distinct inflections while interacting with babies, dolphins too exhibited higher pitches and a broader pitch range.

Studying Dolphin Communication

Despite these intriguing findings, some researchers like Quincy Gibson, director of dolphin research at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, caution that the study’s observations were made during catch-and-release situations. For a comprehensive understanding of dolphin communication, it’s crucial to observe and listen to freely swimming dolphin mothers, she suggests.

Mauricio Cantor, who studies animal behavior at Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute, points out the speculative nature of attributing similar roles of ‘parentese’ in humans and dolphins. Absolute certainty in this matter is unachievable until we can understand dolphins’ actual intentions behind these actions, he argues.

Nevertheless, Sayigh contends that it’s fascinating to witness potential similarities in how different species communicate with their infants. This study paves the way for further exploration into the intricate world of dolphin communication.

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Source: “Bottlenose dolphin moms baby talk when their calves are near” — ScienceNews

WTF Fun Fact 13276 – Hallucigenia

If you’re a fan of bizarre creatures that once roamed the Earth, then Hallucigenia is probably right up your alley. This ancient invertebrate still confounds scientists today with its appearance and mysterious origins. The Hallucigenia lived during the Cambrian period. That’s about 515 to 500 million years ago.

What’s in a name?

We derive its name from its strange anatomy and shape. At the front of its body, it has a pair of tentacles. Next, its long, narrow body was covered in spines and spikes – likely for protection against predators rather than to simply make it look cool.

It also had seven pairs of legs, each with multiple spikes, and a pair of spiky protrusions on its head.

The Hallucigenia’s body ended in a pair of hooks, and it had a thin, flexible skin that may have been used for gliding or swimming. It’s definitely not something you’d want to hug.

With its long spines, claw-like appendages, and worm-like body, some have dubbed it a “nightmare creature.” Scientists are puzzled by this unique anatomy since the creature is not built like animals on Earth today.

Hallucigenia loco-motion

You might think because it has legs that it “walks.” But no, it moves in the creepiest way possible.

Instead of walking or crawling on the ground, the Hallucigenia used its long spines to travel across the sea floor. We call this type of locomotion “arm-leggedness,” and we see it in very few creatures today.

Scientists believe that the Hallucigenia was a simple, bottom-dwelling creature that likely lived in shallow seas. Its long, tubular body could have been an advantage to burrow into the sediment or to probe for food.

Researchers once thought it was a primitive crab, but it is not included in the group called Lobopodia since it’s more likely that it’s an early offshoot of a group of animals called Panarthropoda. This would make it an evolutionary “cousin” of modern-day arthropods such as spiders and insects.

Hallucingenia and the fossil record

The fossil record of Hallucigenia serves as a window into the Earth’s past. It provides a glimpse into how our planet’s ecosystems and organisms have evolved over millions of years. And as researchers continue to make new discoveries, it will be interesting to see how scientists piece together the puzzle of this strange creature and learn more about its story.

It might not be the cuddliest creature in history, but the Hallucingenia is no hallucination. It’s one of the planet’s fascinating mysteries born in a time when nothing like a human existed. The Cambrian period saw an explosion in the evolution of new types of creatures. And we know a lot about it because there were many hard-bodied creatures that got preserved in the fossil records (as opposed to being smashed into goo).

Humans would eventually evolve from the first vertebrates (creatures with a backbone) that emerged during this time. But that was going to take tens of millions more years.

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Source: “What is hallucigenia?” — BBC Science Focus