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Acoustic Recognition Between Mother and Cubs in Raccoons (Procyon Lotor)

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Two vocalizations, utilized by raccoon (Procyon lotor) mothers ("chitter") and their dependent cubs ("whistle") to establish and maintain contact among each other, are studied in captive groups containing a total of 6 mothers and their 23 cubs. The paper describes frequency of occurrence of the calls, contexts of the callers, individual variation in the call's structure and the responses of the callees both in uncontrolled situations and in playback experiments. Maternal chitters are most frequently used during the month following the first excursion of the cubs from the litter den by females approaching the cubs or leading them to the food. The frequency of whistling in cubs is high during the nestling period and decrease when they become mobile. The main context of whistling in the cub-mother relationship is answering maternal chitters. Mobile cubs follow their chittering mother silently. The chitters of 4 females differ individually, the main distinctive feature being frequency and pulse rate. The whistles of 12 cubs are individually distinctive, too; duration and frequency measures differ most between individuals. Hence, mothers and cubs have the potential for individual acoustic identification. Seven-week-old nestlings, tested in an experimental arena with successive playbacks, answered maternal chitters on average more often and faster than alien ones, warning grunts or a noise. Mobile cubs approached maternal chitters more often when tested in simultaneous playback experiments. Only 2 of 6 females, however, confronted with whistle-playbacks of their own vs alien cubs in their cages, responded more strongly to calls of their offspring. Results indicate that raccoons may be capable of recognizing family members by acoustic cues alone on a familiar vs strange basis. Advantages of using vocalizations in mother-young relationship and of the potential for acoustic identification and recognition in a solitary mammal are discussed.

Affiliations: 1: (Department of Zoological Research, U.S. National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. 20008, U.S.A., Universität Bern, Ethologische Station Hasli, Wohlenstrasse 50a, CH-3032 Hinterkappelen, Switzerland


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