- Researchers led by the University of Turin studied indri lemurs in Madagascar
- He studied the songs of 20 different groups of Indri over the course of 12 years
- The team found that the songs have a clear rhythm similar to human music
- Rhythm is a trait that is rare in non-human mammals, experts said
Madagascar’s critically endangered ‘singing’ lemur – Indri indri – has a natural ability to keep a beat, just as we humans do, a study has concluded.
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and the University of Turin studied sensei songs in the island country’s rainforests.
They found that the lemur’s strange, weeping songs had the same kind of universal, clear rhythm found in human musical cultures.
Outside of humans, rhythm is a rare trait in mammals – although it can be found elsewhere in the animal kingdom, perhaps most notably in songbirds.
Madagascar’s critically endangered ‘singing’ lemur – Indri indri – has a natural ability to keep a beat, just as we humans do, a study has concluded. Pictured: a Madagascan indri
How did evolution give lemur talons like humans?
Andrea Ravignani of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, the ability to produce clear, musical-like rhythms ‘singing’ evolved independently among primate species.
He and his colleagues came to the conclusion that the last common ancestor between humans and humans lived about 77.5 million years ago.
He said that having a sense of rhythm, can make it easier to create and process songs – and even learn new ones.
The study was carried out by Andrea Ravignani, a comparative bioacoustic expert at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands, and his colleagues.
Dr Ravignani explained, ‘There has been a long-standing interest in understanding how human music evolved, but music is not limited to humans alone.
‘Looking for musical characteristics in other species allows us to build an “evolutionary tree” of musical traits, and helps to understand how rhythm abilities originated and evolved in humans.’
For their investigation, Dr. Ravignani and his colleagues, together with a local primate study group, spent 12 years monitoring Indri in the rainforests of Madagascar.
The team recorded songs from 39 senses, together forming 20 groups of primates. Lemur families sing together in groups, forming harmonious duets and choruses.
Analysis of animal songs revealed that they exhibited a classic, graded rhythm—in which the intervals between sounds have either exactly the same duration (1:1) rhythm or doubled duration (1:2).
When a piece of music has a clear rhythm, it becomes easily recognizable, whether the song is sung or played at a different tempo.
The researchers also found evidence of ‘ritardando’, which is also found in many human musical traditions.
Meanwhile, the songs of the male and female sense organs were found to have a different tempo, but still follow the same rhythm – a finding that researchers say is the first evidence of a ‘rhythmic universal’ in a non-human mammal.
Analysis of Indrie Lemar’s songs revealed that they exhibited a classic, graded rhythm – in which the intervals between sounds have either exactly the same duration (1:1) rhythm or doubled duration (1:2). Image: A Sense in the Wild
‘The hierarchical rhythm is just one of the six universes that have been identified so far’, explained Dr. Ravignani.
‘We want to look for evidence of others – including an underlying “repetitive” beat and a hierarchical organization of beats – in the sensei and other species.’
The team said researchers should seek to gather more data on Indri and other similar endangered species, ‘before it is too late to witness their captivating singing repertoire.’
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Current Biology.
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and the University of Turin studied indriya songs in the rainforests of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.
What do we know about lemurs?
Lemurs, whose name means ‘night spirits’, are a special group of primates, which look like a cat crossed with a squirrel and a dog.
They are found only on Madagascar and the Comoro Islands.
Lemurs live in different habitats. Some live in moist, tropical rainforests, while others live in dry desert regions.
The largest living type of lemur ever lived was Archaeoindis which weighed between 350 and 440lbs (160 and 200kg). It became extinct when humans first settled in Madagascar about 2,000 years ago.
Lemurs are prosimians or primitive primates. They are social animals with long limbs, flexible toes and fingers, and long noses.
Each type of lemur looks very different. They vary in color from reddish brown to brown, and also come in all different sizes.
The smallest lemur, the pygmy mouse lemur, weighs only 1 oz (28 g), but the largest, the Indri and diademed sifaka, can weigh up to 15 lb (6.8 kg), which is the equivalent of a large cat.
Lemons are mainly herbivores, usually eating fruits and leaves. Some are nocturnal, while others are active during the day or at dawn.
Lemurs are often seen ‘sunbathing’ in a meditative state. Since their stomachs are not protected from the cold environment, these animals will warm themselves in sunlight before proceeding with their daily pastoral activities.
Lemurs use their lower teeth, rodents and canines as toothcombs to groom themselves as well as other members of the group.
Lemurs are vocal animals, making sounds that range from the grunts and swears of brown lemurs and sifakas to the chirps of mouse lemurs to the eerie, crying calls of sensei.
Habitat loss is the main threat to lemurs today, as people…