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article imageBaby crocodiles start chatting with siblings and mothers before they hatch

By Chris V. Thangham     Jun 24, 2008 in Science
French researchers have learned that baby crocodiles start to chat even before they hatch. Scientists say they make sounds so they will induce the hatching process and hatch at the same time as their siblings so they can be protected by their mother.
Amelie Vergne and Nicolas Mathevon of Universite Jean Monnet in Saint-Etienne, France analyzed 10 crocodiles and their eggs at a zoo in France.
They found little crocodiles inside the eggs make an "umph! umph! umph!" sound right before they hatch. When the siblings and mothers hear this, the siblings also begin to make these sounds to try and break free from the eggs. The noise also signals the mothers to approach the eggs to take care of the newborns.
Researchers recorded the sounds and played them back to other crocs. They found that baby crocodiles and the mothers respond well to the "umph!" sounds.
You can listen to the audio recording (mp3) here.
Vergne and Mathevon wrote in the journal Current Biology:
"Crocodile mothers react strongly to playback of pre-hatching calls, most of them by digging the sand."
In another experiment, they removed the eggs from the nest and played back the sounds and the mother crocodile continued to guard the nest in anticipation.
Eight of the mother crocodiles who were played recordings of the "umph" calls tried to dig up their nest, while mothers who heard random sounds did not react at all.
Mathevon explained the reason for the sounds made by the baby crocodile: As soon as they hatch, they become prey to predators. As a defense mechanism, the crocodiles make the sounds so they can hatch together and make their mother stay nearby to protect them.
In a statement, Mathevon said:
"In this sense, it is important for all embryos in the nest to be ready for hatching at the same time so that they all receive adult care and protection."
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