BIRD EMBRYOS CAN DISCERN BETWEEN CALLS—A FIRST IN NATURE

- popular story, published by National Geographic News (link)

We're not the only species that can recognize voices in the womb: Inside the egg, tiny songbirds called superb fairy wrens can discriminate sounds from different birds of their own species, a new study reveals.

The embryos pay attention to surrounding noises and can tell if they are listening to calls from a fairy wren they haven't heard before, according to the study, published October 28 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The findings represent the first time a species other than humans has been shown to distinguish between individuals in utero.

This remarkable ability allows growing embryos to learn a "password" from their mother, which they then use to beg for food upon hatching.

"We have tended to use birth or hatching as the starting point for the development of behavior," said Robert Lickliter, a developmental psychologist at Florida International University in Miami, who was not involved in the study. 

"This work shows that it's worth going back further in development to see where the roots of behavior come from."

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