Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Fairy-wren babies need password for food

Date:
November 8, 2012
Source:
Cell Press
Summary:
It's always a good idea to listen to your mother, but that goes double for baby fairy-wrens even before they are hatched. If those fairy-wren babies want to be fed, they need to have a password -- a single unique note -- taught to them by their mothers from outside the egg. The nestlings incorporate that password right into their begging calls, according to researchers.

Fairy-wren babies need password for food.
Credit: Colombelli-Negrel et al., Current Biology

It's always a good idea to listen to your mother, but that goes double for baby fairy-wrens even before they are hatched.

If those fairy-wren babies want to be fed, they need to have a password -- a single unique note -- taught to them by their mothers from outside the egg. The nestlings incorporate that password right into their begging calls, according to researchers who report their discovery online on Nov. 8 in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication.

This remarkable example of prenatal learning is an adaptation that apparently allows fairy-wren parents to discriminate between their own babies and those of parasitic cuckoos who have invaded their nests. Females also teach their mate and any helpers the password by singing it to them in a "solicitation song" performed away from the nest.

"Parents and others attending the nestlings will only feed them if their begging calls contain the learned password," said Sonia Kleindorfer of Flinders University in Australia. Otherwise, the parents simply abandon the nest and start again.

Kleindorfer and her colleagues originally stumbled onto this scheme when they noticed something unexpectedly odd while studying nest predators and alarm calls: superb fairy-wren mothers calling to their unhatched eggs. The researchers later found that fairy-wren nestlings' one-note begging calls differed from one nest to another. The researchers' key breakthrough was the realization that the unique element in each female's incubation call was the basis of the begging call of her brood. In other words, it was a password.

Cross-fostering experiments, in which clutches of eggs were swapped between nests, showed that the nestlings produced begging calls that matched their foster mothers, not their biological mothers, evidence that the passwords were indeed learned. The researchers found they could also prevent attending parents from feeding their nestlings by placing a loudspeaker under the nest that played the wrong begging call.

The findings show that even traits that appear innate may actually be learned. Such an ability could have real evolutionary implications for the superb fairy-wrens, and more broadly.

"We show that females that guard and teach the embryo could increase the transmission efficacy of female cultural traits," Kleindorfer explained. "In systems with uniparental care, caretakers of embryos will have more opportunity to pass on female memes, or 'messages,' to the embryo." And, she added, that means that mothers have a special ability to transmit not just genes to the next generation, but also memes.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cell Press. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Diane Colombelli-Nιgrel, Mark E. Hauber, Jeremy Robertson, Frank J. Sulloway, Herbert Hoi, Matteo Griggio, Sonia Kleindorfer. Embryonic Learning of Vocal Passwords in Superb Fairy-Wrens Reveals Intruder Cuckoo Nestlings. Current Biology, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.09.025

Cite This Page:

Cell Press. "Fairy-wren babies need password for food." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 November 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121108131605.htm>.
Cell Press. (2012, November 8). Fairy-wren babies need password for food. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121108131605.htm
Cell Press. "Fairy-wren babies need password for food." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121108131605.htm (accessed August 30, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

We've Got Mites Living In Our Faces And So Do You

We've Got Mites Living In Our Faces And So Do You

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) — A new study suggests 100 percent of adult humans (those over 18 years of age) have Demodex mites living in their faces. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Experimental Ebola Drug ZMapp Cures Lab Monkeys Of Disease

Experimental Ebola Drug ZMapp Cures Lab Monkeys Of Disease

Newsy (Aug. 29, 2014) — In a new study, a promising experimental treatment for Ebola managed to cure a group of infected macaque monkeys. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) — State health officials say testing has confirmed the presence of a killer amoeba in a water system serving three St. John the Baptist Parish towns. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Australian Sheep Gets Long Overdue Haircut

Raw: Australian Sheep Gets Long Overdue Haircut

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) — Hoping to break the record for world's wooliest, Shaun the sheep came up 10 pounds shy with his fleece weighing over 50 pounds after being shorn for the first time in years. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins