3 min read

'I Need My Mama' Distress Calls Are Similar For All Mammals

"There's something primal in a mother's response to a crying infant. So primal, in fact, that mother deer will rush protectively to the distress calls of other infant mammals, such as fur seals, marmots and even humans. This suggests such calls might share common elements – and perhaps that these animals experience similar emotions." So begins a recent report called "Primal pull of a baby crying reaches across species" by Bob Holmes in New Scientist magazine. (The title of this essay in the print edition is "Baby mammals share the same cry.")

Playing off of numerous observations of researchers, citizen scientists, and others who marvel about the fascinating nonhuman animals (animals) with whom we share our planet, Susan Lingle of the University of Winnipeg and Tobias Riede of Midwestern University studied the response of wild mule deer mothers to the distress calls of infant deer, fur seals, marmots, dogs, cats, bats, humans, and other mammals. They published their results in an essay called "Deer Mothers Are Sensitive to Infant Distress Vocalizations of Diverse Mammalian Species," in the highly regarded professional American Naturalist in which they conclude, "acoustic traits of infant distress vocalizations that are essential for a response by caregivers, and a caregiver's sensitivity to these traits, are shared across diverse mammals," even those separated by more than 90 million years of evolution.

Mothers know best

This is a very interesting and important discovery in that when a youngster needs help they need it right then, not later. Dr. Lingle notes, mammalian mothers "are likely to have evolved to respond quickly, rather than carefully, to situations that threaten their offspring. These are calls that are generally made in a life-or-death situation [and] I think the advantage of securing survival for your offspring outweighs the potential for error." Moms do know best.