Wild cats mimic monkey calls to entice prey

July 9th, 2010 - 5:35 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, July 9 (IANS) Believe it or not, a wild cat species in South America imitates the call of its intended victim, a squirrel-sized monkey known as a pied tamarin, to trap it.
This is the first recorded instance of a wild cat in America mimicking the calls of its prey.

Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society and Federal University of Amazonas confirmed what until now had been only anecdotal reports from Amazonian inhabitants of wild cat species.

They include jaguars and pumas - actually mimicking primates, agoutis, and other species in order to draw them within striking range, reported the June issue of Neotropical Primates.

“Cats are known for their physical agility, but this vocal manipulation of prey species indicates a psychological cunning which merits further study,” said Wildlife Conservation Society researcher Fabio Rohe.

Researchers first recorded the incident in 2005 when a group of eight pied tamarins were feeding in a ficus tree.

They then observed a margay (wild cat) emitting calls similar to those made by tamarin babies.

This attracted the attention of a tamarin “sentinel,” which climbed down from the tree to investigate the sounds coming from a tangle of vines called lianas.

While the sentinel monkey started calling out to warn the rest of the group of the strange calls, the monkeys were confused and chose to investigate the origin of the sound rather than flee.

Four other tamarins climbed down to assess the calls. At that moment, a margay emerged from the foliage walking down the trunk of a tree in a squirrel-like fashion, jumping down and then moving towards the monkeys.

Realising the ruse, the sentinel screamed an alarm and sent the other tamarins fleeing, says a Wildlife Conservation Society release.

While this specific instance of mimicry was unsuccessful, researchers were amazed at the ingenuity of the hunting strategy.

Said Avecita Chicchón, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Latin America Programme: “This means that accounts of jaguars and pumas using the same vocal mimicry to attract prey - but not yet recorded by scientists - also deserve investigation.”

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