Mommy Deer-est

Who loves the sound of a baby crying? Apparently, everyone!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh, with the Loh Down on Science, saying: It’s fundamental!

Baby mammals emit distress calls for many reasons: hunger, separation, capture—and having the TV switched off during Sponge Bob. These calls share common acoustic traits among species. Where they can differ is in fundamental frequency, or “pitch.”

When they hear their little darlings cry, moms of all species will come running. But just how far does the mothering instinct go?

Susan Lingle of the University of Winnipeg and Tobias Riede of Arizona’s Midwestern University wondered. So they played recordings of a variety of baby mammal cries within earshot of mule deer in the wild.

The babies included kittens, puppies, seals, bats, and humans. Observers watched from a distance to gauge the deers’ reactions. And?

When mama deer heard a cry that fell within her fundamental frequency range, she hurried to the rescue – even if it came from another species.

This may mean that distress calls, and their maternal response, evolved as a shared survival tool among diverse mammal species.

As for the universal cry of “Are we there yet?” … more research is needed.