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Acoustical mother-offspring recognition in pigs (sus scrofa domestica)

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Parental recognition of offspring is important in highly social animals. Both wild and free-ranging domestic sows live in groups during lactation, except for a few days of isolation directly after parturition. It is therefore important that a sow is able to discriminate her own piglets from alien piglets both at close contact and from a distance. We investigated whether piglets' vocalizations at 10 days of age may serve this function. Vocalizations of own and alien piglets were recorded on day 9 post partum whilst the piglets were isolated from the sow for 5 min (isolation calls, i-calls) and when piglets were returned to their sows afterwards (contact calls, c-calls). We first examined whether the two types of piglet vocalizations include cues which make it possible to discriminate between individual litters. A total of 2155 i-calls and 475 c-calls were sampled. From digitized calls, a total of 50 acoustic parameters were calculated and then subjected to a discriminant function analysis (forward stepwise method). Both i-calls and c-calls could be classified significantly better to the correct litters than would be expected by chance. In a playback experiment, whether sows isolated from their piglets respond more strongly to i-calls and c-calls of their own piglets than to alien calls was tested. For both the i-calls (N = 12 sows) and c-calls (N = 8 sows) sows responded with more vocalizations to the playback of own piglets' voices than to the playback of alien piglets' voices. The study shows that piglet calls contain acoustic cues that are litter typical and that sows are able to recognize their offspring based on these cues.


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