Meerkats Don’t Spoil Their Mind-Numbingly Cute Babies

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Meerkats don’t spoil their mind-numbingly cute babies forever — just for their first 100 days:

Zoologists at the University of Cambridge wanted to understand why a young meerkat would stop using its charm to get free food and begin working for its own food. Joah Madden and his colleagues studied groups of wild meerkats in the Kalahari Desert, and found that as the pups aged into juveniles their voices changed: Pup begging calls peaked at an average of 1231 Hz, whereas the juveniles peaked at a deeper 953 Hz.

This change in pitch might make their begs less persuasive, eliciting less food and leaving the juveniles no option but to forage on their own. To explore this option, Madden followed adult meerkats around with a loudspeaker that played younger baby meerkat begs. He found the adults started offering their own food, even to older juveniles. And the juveniles — which had been past their begging prime — eagerly ran over to grab the free meals, ceasing their own foraging. The results appeared May 17 in Animal Behaviour.

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