Vocal development during postnatal growth and ear morphology in a shrew that generates seismic vibrations, Diplomesodon pulchellum.


The ability of adult and subadult piebald shrews (Diplomesodon pulchellum) to produce 160Hz seismic waves is potentially reflected in their vocal ontogeny and ear morphology. In this study, the ontogeny of call variables and body traits was examined in 11 litters of piebald shrews, in two-day intervals from birth to 22 days (subadult), and ear structure was investigated in two specimens using micro-computed tomography (micro-CT). Across ages, the call fundamental frequency (f0) was stable in squeaks and clicks and increased steadily in screeches, representing an unusual, non-descending ontogenetic pathway of f0. The rate of the deep sinusoidal modulation (pulse rate) of screeches increased from 75Hz at 3-4 days to 138Hz at 21-22 days, probably relating to ontogenetic changes in contraction rates of the same muscles which are responsible for generating seismic vibrations. The ear reconstructions revealed that the morphologies of the middle and inner ears of the piebald shrew are very similar to those of the common shrew (Sorex araneus) and the lesser white-toothed shrew (Crocidura suaveolens), which are not known to produce seismic signals. These results suggest that piebald shrews use a mechanism other than hearing for perceiving seismic vibrations.