Monday, May 18, 2009

Prairie dogs chat about colors

Con Slobodchikoff, Northern Arizona UniversityNathan last Friday blogged about humans using animal related colors such as leghorn and elephant's breath. Northern Arizona University's Prof. Con Slobodchikoff (portrayed left) turned the tables: he had similar-sized women (human females) stroll through a prairie dog community wearing yellow, blue, or green T-shirts and listened to the prairie dogs chatting about the shirts' colors.

Analysis of the calls' frequency patterns revealed that the chirps for blue shirts were different from those for yellow and green, which elicited the same calls. The results support the idea that the prairie dogs are incorporating colors into their alarm calls, the researchers report. The prairie dogs' dichromatic vision can distinguish yellow and green from blue but easily confuses yellow with green.

For all the details, read the paper Prairie dog alarm calls encode labels about predator colors in the journal Animal Cognition, Volume 12, Number 3 / Mai 2009.

Nathan's next challenge is to develop a user interface suitable to Gunnison's prairie dog (Cynomys gunnisoni) for his color naming experiment.