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In both love and war, alligators signal size by bellowing


American alligators produce loud, low-frequency vocalizations called "bellows". Cognitive biologists at the University of Vienna, Stephan Reber and Tecumseh Fitch, investigated these vocalizations and found that they reveal the caller’s body size. Alligators can use this information to avoid unpromising contests for mates and breeding areas. The study results were published in "Scientific Reports".

In alligators and other crocodilian species, being bigger than your conspecifics can have decisive benefits: Females only accept males larger than themselves as mates and larger alligators are much more likely to win territorial fights. However, direct physical confrontations can lead to lethal injuries so it would be advantageous if fights could be avoided by individuals reliably signalling their body size to potential mates and rivals early on. One way to achieve this is by "honest" acoustic cues to body size in vocalizations. A team around Tecumseh Fitch at the Department of Cognitive Biology at the University of Vienna has now identified cues to body size in calls of American alligators, which is the first finding of this kind in reptiles. [more]