Listen To Your Mom, Girl

We know that elephants work cooperatively and gossip about this and that in undertones that we can’t quite catch. There may be just the touch of democracy in the group but only a touch. African elephant groups are matrilineal and what mom says goes, especially if she is older and has been around the block a few times. This, of course, is a good thing as we were all told when we were little (and maybe not so little), and the savannah predators make this essential. Lions do eat elephants. Little ones, they couldn’t manage a whole one, and apparently male lions are particularly dangerous, so the family gets behind Big Momma in a tight group with bigger sisters at the front when a lion come knocking.

Studying this response in the field, McComb et al (1) crept up on unsuspecting family groups and played lion roars through their boom boxes. Recordings of multiple lions roaring got immediate solidarity with a tight bunch and Big Momma getting ready to tan their hides for making such a racket. More interesting though, were the results from single lion roars.

Young moms were much more casual about getting ready to sort the neighbor out if the roar was from a single lion. Big Momma though knew better, and would gather her family in. If the roar was from a male lion, things were taken more seriously by all, although one lion roar sounds much like another to me. Those big elephant ears aren’t just for cooling the blood, but get it pretty hot if the sound waves aren’t to their liking.

The general conclusion was that older meant wiser. And when listening to opportunist predators, Big Momma knows best what’s good for you. You’d better listen and not go and see what that pretty guy out there is shouting about .


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