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Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 2009 Aug;84(3):391-411. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-185X.2009.00079.x.

Acoustic communication in crocodilians: from behaviour to brain.

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Université de Saint-Etienne, Ecologie & Neuro-Ethologie Sensorielles EA3988, Saint-Etienne, France.


Crocodilians and birds are the modern representatives of Phylum Archosauria. Although there have been recent advances in our understanding of the phylogeny and ecology of ancient archosaurs like dinosaurs, it still remains a challenge to obtain reliable information about their behaviour. The comparative study of birds and crocodiles represents one approach to this interesting problem. One of their shared behavioural features is the use of acoustic communication, especially in the context of parental care. Although considerable data are available for birds, information concerning crocodilians is limited. The aim of this review is to summarize current knowledge about acoustic communication in crocodilians, from sound production to hearing processes, and to stimulate research in this field. Juvenile crocodilians utter a variety of communication sounds that can be classified into various functional categories: (1) "hatching calls", solicit the parents at hatching and fine-tune hatching synchrony among siblings; (2) "contact calls", thought to maintain cohesion among juveniles; (3) "distress calls", induce parental protection; and (4) "threat and disturbance calls", which perhaps function in defence. Adult calls can likewise be classified as follows: (1) "bellows", emitted by both sexes and believed to function during courtship and territorial defence; (2) "maternal growls", might maintain cohesion among offspring; and (3) "hisses", may function in defence. However, further experiments are needed to identify the role of each call more accurately as well as systematic studies concerning the acoustic structure of vocalizations. The mechanism of sound production and its control are also poorly understood. No specialized vocal apparatus has been described in detail and the motor neural circuitry remains to be elucidated. The hearing capabilities of crocodilians appear to be adapted to sound detection in both air and water. The ear functional anatomy and the auditory sensitivity of these reptiles are similar in many respects to those of birds. The crocodilian nervous system likewise shares many features with that of birds, especially regarding the neuroanatomy of the auditory pathways. However, the functional anatomy of the telencephalic auditory areas is less well understood in crocodilians compared to birds.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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