Twenty-two kHz alarm cries to presentation of a predator, by laboratory rats living in visible burrow systems

Physiol Behav. 1991 Nov;50(5):967-72. doi: 10.1016/0031-9384(91)90423-l.


When a cat was presented to groups of 3 male and 2 female laboratory rats in the open area of a visible burrow system, the rats retreated to the burrow system and showed high levels of 18-24 kHz ultrasonic cries during the cat presentation and for 30 min following removal of the cat. Latency to make ultrasonic vocalizations, durations of these vocalizations, and duration in the burrow systems were all strikingly and reliably different during and after cat exposure in comparison to similar periods with a control (stuffed cat toy) stimulus. However, when individual rats were exposed to a cat in an open area of similar size, ultrasonic cry production was minimal. Also rats exposed individually to a cat in an apparatus providing an escape chamber similarly showed no ultrasonic cries, indicating that concealment per se is not a sufficient condition for their appearance. These results suggest that the production of ultrasonic vocalizations during and after exposure to a predator is greatly facilitated by the presence of familiar conspecifics, and may serve as alarm cries. While the alarm cry hypothesis also suggests a possible function for 18-24 kHz ultrasounds in the context of copulation and intraspecies aggression, the sonographic and functional relationships among the cries emitted in these different situations remain to be analyzed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cats
  • Escape Reaction
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Motor Activity
  • Predatory Behavior
  • Rats
  • Social Environment*
  • Sound Spectrography*
  • Territoriality
  • Ultrasonics
  • Vocalization, Animal*