Primate Popstars

They gather at dawn, lifting their voices high in sweet rhythms. Oh, and they’re lemurs!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

You might be jamming to some tunes in your car right now! Do any of our animal friends do the same?

Ask Andrea Ravignani at Max Planck Institute and colleagues at University of Turin. For TWELVE years, they recorded the singing of some VERY TALENTED primates — Madagascar’s indri lemurs. Indris are a rare, panda-colored, and unfortunately, endangered species.. 

The biologists found that the indri musical method is a lot like ours! Indris sing musical notes not at random, but in two distinct rhythms. The rhythm was either one-to-one: BUM-bum, BUM-bum, like a MARCH – or one-to-two: BUM-bum-bum, BUM-bum-bum, like a WALTZ. 

Rhythmic categories like these are universal features of human music!

This find demonstrates that “we’ve got the beat” isn’t JUST for humans. It’s nice knowing that somewhere, our primate pals are getting their groove on! 

Hey — I’ve got a pitch for the American Idol reboot … and it’s a PERFECT pitch!

Reference: De Gregorio, C., Valente, D., Raimondi, T. et al. Categorical rhythms in a singing primate. Curr Bio 31, 20 (2021).

“Primate Popstars” by Jason Lee