Goats Can Tell Their Friends in the Herd by the Way They Look and Sound

Posted by Allie Layos
Multicolored goat headshot

Goats identify friends by both sound and looks, according to a recent study. 

Goats can tell goat friends from strangers by developing a mental image of how they sound and look, says an international study led by research from Macquarie University.

Dr. Benjamin Pitcher, lead researcher on the study and research fellow at Macquarie University, who carried out the research at Queen Mary University of London, said in an interview with Gizmodo:

"We observed that goats can differentiate between a call from their stablemate and a call from an unfamiliar goat, meaning that these animals are able to use sounds to help identify familiar goats."

This may mean that they're even smarter than many people used to believe.

"The results indicate that goats not only have an awareness of how other goats look, but also how they sound, meaning that they have a higher-level of cognitive ability in this aspect than previously thought," Pitcher said.

During the study, researchers tested whether a goat could identify the call of an individual goat by placing a "watcher" goat facing the pens of two "caller" goats. One caller goat was familiar to the watcher goat, and one was not.

Goat with kids

Pitcher said:

"We played a recording of either the call of the familiar goat or the call of the unfamiliar goat at a space equally distant between the two caller-goats. We saw that the watcher-goat would turn and watch the goat who had made the original call, whether that be the stablemate or the unfamiliar goat, meaning that they could tell which goat should have made the call."

However, when the watcher goat was faced with two unfamiliar goats, it showed no preference in the direction of its gaze.

The researchers said that goats may have evolved to use both sound and visual cues as a way to identify other familiar goats, just like humans do with familiar people, because they live in social groups.

"This higher-level of cognitive ability could be driven by their sociality, as there is growing evidence that social animals such as dogs and horses can also do this," Pitcher said.

It is just one more step in understanding how animals think and communicate.

"By examining how different animals use sound and visual recognition, we can develop an understanding of how animals integrate information from multiple sensory sources, such as sight and hearing," Pitcher said.

"This helps us to understand more about the complex world of animal communication."

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Goats Can Tell Their Friends in the Herd by the Way They Look and Sound