Catch the wave: prairie dogs assess neighbours’ awareness using contagious displays

James F. Hare, Kevin L. Campbell, Robert W. Senkiw

Abstract

The jump–yip display of black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) is contagious, spreading through a prairie dog town as ‘the wave’ through a stadium. Because contagious communication in primates serves to assess conspecific social awareness, we investigated whether instigators of jump–yip bouts adjusted their behaviour relative to the response of conspecifics recruited to display bouts. Increased responsiveness of neighbouring town members resulted in bout initiators devoting a significantly greater proportion of time to active foraging. Contagious jump–yips thus function to assess neighbours’ alertness, soliciting social information to assess effective conspecific group size in real time and reveal active probing of conspecific awareness consistent with theory of mind in these group-living rodents.

  • Received August 17, 2013.
  • Accepted December 3, 2013.
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