Waking Up Is Hard To Do.

Colobus Monkeys         photo credit: Daryona

Many of us have the luxury of waking to the dulcet tones of an alarm clock. Others may be woken by young kids who seem to have boundless energy, an insatiable appetite, or both. Even our cat or dog will take it upon itself to remind you of your duties. But why it’s necessary for some species to get up before the sun just to annoy their neighbors seems to me to be a very strange habit.

Birds do this regularly with their dawn chorus, which would be better named pre-dawn chorus. Outside my window in the summer, the swallows push and shove, flutter and squawk, and make a terrific noise until the sun comes up. Then they shut up and go back to sleep leaving the rest of us with dark thoughts for the day.

It’s not only birds that make a joint effort at a pre-dawn racket, some primates do it too. I recall hearing gibbons calling to each other at the crack of dawn, but these sound more romantic than a racket. Howler monkeys get together at the edge of their territory and hurl abuse at their neighbors for a while in the New World while Colobus monkeys keep up tradition in the Old World and get it off their chests for a couple of hours before the sun rises.

This friendly gesture by a band of Colobus guereza was investigated by Schel and Zuberbühler and reported in the online edition of J. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology (1,2). Not just satisfied with just listening to the loud staccato throat clearing sound by their chosen band, they decided to join in.

Maybe it was to get their own back on being woken early, but what they did was to play recordings of the Colobus chorus around the forest before their band had woken up and got their act together.

The results were interesting. Playing snatches before the Colobus guys were up didn’t get much response. They had to give it more than half a minute when the band were getting ready to tune up before they could elicit a response. Although their study showed that they could distinguish individual voices in the cacophony, they concluded that the chorus was democratic and no one seemed to be responding to any particular individual.

Seems that there isn’t too much competition for a top solo spot, but the effort is in shouting down the neighbors. I guess that, as is invariably the case, an acoustic assault is preferred to a physical one. One is left to wonder why, if this is a regular occurrence at 2 hours before dawn, there are any neighbors left.

  1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/15893160
  2. http://www.springerlink.com/content/xx13437p61701128/

Leave a Reply