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‘Chatty Turtles’ Flip the Script on the Evolutionary Origins of Vocalization in Animals

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Pakinam Amer: This is Scientific American’s 60-Second Science. I’m Pakinam Amer.

Clicks, clucks, grunts, and snorts—these are not sounds that we typically associate with turtles.

[CLIP: Audio of South American juvenile turtles]

Amer: They’re actually thought to be very quiet or even silent. But it looks like we may have grossly underestimated how much sound they can make. Now a new study in Nature Communications has collected vocal recordings from 53 species of turtles and other animals that were otherwise considered to be mute.

[CLIP: Audio of South American juvenile turtles]

Amer: Those clicks you’ve just heard were calls made by baby giant Amazon River turtles swimming together. A group of evolutionary biologists and other scientists in five different countries pored over these recordings and combined them with vocal repertoires of about 1,800  animal species from other studies.

Amer: They were able to piece together evidence that the last common ancestor of all lungfish and tetrapods started vocalizing more than 400 million years ago. (And just in case you…



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