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The Use of Pelage Pigmentation in the Recognition of Mothers By Domestic Goat Kids (Capra Hircus)

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Although it is known that the young play an active role in the formation of mother-young attachment in ruminants, there is scant knowledge of how neonates identify their mothers. This research investigated the use of visual cues, particularly pelage pigmentation, in maternal recognition by domestic goat kids. Observations on the use of auditory cues were carried out secondarily. The findings of this study were: (1) The analysis of error patterns revealed that goat kids performed phenotype matching on the basis of pelage pigmentation when seeking their mothers in two- and six-choice tests, at a distance of 10 m. Presenting the kids with a choice between two females of the same colour resulted in more vacillation, and fewer kids were able to go to their mother directly than when the adults were of different colours. The phenomenon was not evident when the kids were 3 days old. Because it occurred at all other ages, regardless of whether the mother was absent, covered, or fully visible, colour-matching seems to be an important aspect of maternal recognition. (2) Visual cues were important for recognition, as evidenced by the performance of kids when maternal cues were limited (i.e. the mother was covered). (3) The efficiency measures did not correlate strongly with maternal vocalizations when visual cues from the mother were not completely present or when pelage pigmentation was not a good cue for discrimination. On the contrary, kids unexpectedly vocalized more in the conditions in which they could discriminate on the basis of visual cues, that is, when the mother was bare rather than covered, and when she was paired with a doe of a different colour category rather than one of the same colour category. (4) Five-day-old domestic goat kids recognized their mothers efficiently, even within a group, and at a distance of at least 10 m. Most 3-day-kids were not able to find their mothers efficiently in the six-choice test. Errors were made at all ages. The observed performance is consistent with the abilities required of kids under natural conditions.

Affiliations: 1: (Graduate Group in Animal Behavior, University of California, Davis, CA 95616


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