Human mother’s responding to the call of children, even children that are not their own, is a well-documented and well understood occurrence, but what about in other species, or even across different species?
Susan Lingle of the University of Winnipeg noticed that most mammalian babies sound a bit similar when they cry, so she decided to perform a study on wild deer in Canada. What she found is that the deer will respond to the cries of several other mammalian species, the results were published in The American Naturalist.
Dogs have been known to respond to the cries of a human baby, but it was unclear whether this was natural or a result of the unique relationship that dogs have with humans after thousands of years of domestication.
In order remove any chance of familiarity affecting the study, Lingle and Tobias Riede of Midwestern University obtained recordings of the distress cries of infant mammals that had been separated by tens of millions of years of evolutionary history. The recordings were played to wild deer through speakers and included the infant cries of seals, marmots, cats, bats, and humans.
When the cries were played at a range similar to what female deer are used to hearing from their own offspring, the quickly attempted to locate the infant from the recordings, regardless of the species. The same response did not occur when distress calls from birds we played.
Read more about the story at New Scientist.