Lemurs groom-at-a-distance through vocal networks

Ipek G. Kulahci, Daniel Ian Rubenstein, Asif A. Ghazanfar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Vocal exchanges are predicted to serve a social bonding function by allowing conspecifics to 'groom-at-a-distance'. If vocalizations play a role in bonding, then they should be mainly exchanged between the socially bonded group members, and thus display high social selectivity that characterizes other affiliative behaviours such as grooming. However, whether or not vocal exchanges are driven by social bonds remains unclear. We investigated vocal selectivity by studying the relationships between contact-calling networks and grooming networks in multiple free-ranging groups of ringtailed lemurs, Lemur catta. Lemur grooming interactions were socially selective and were directed towards only some of their group members. However, their vocal exchanges displayed even higher levels of social selectivity. Instead of exchanging vocalizations with each group member they groomed, lemurs reserved their vocal responses mainly for the group members whom they had frequently groomed. We tested this vocal selectivity through a playback experiment in which we presented lemurs' calls to their group. Lemurs responded only to the playbacks of the conspecifics whose calls they had responded to while free-ranging, confirming that selective vocal responses do not depend on proximal (i.e. visual or olfactory) cues from the vocalizing lemur. These robust relationships between grooming and contact-calling networks in lemurs, a species that lives in small groups where grooming frequency reflects bond strength, demonstrates that vocal exchanges indicate the strong social bonds between conspecifics. Contact calls may serve a bonding function in social species by allowing the strongly bonded group members to groom-at-a-distance when they are separated from each other.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)179-186
Number of pages8
JournalAnimal Behaviour
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


  • Communication network
  • Grooming
  • Grooming-at-a-distance
  • Lemur catta
  • Social network
  • Vocal communication


Dive into the research topics of 'Lemurs groom-at-a-distance through vocal networks'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this