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Hyraxes Found to Sing with Varying Syntax

from the San Francisco Chronicle

First things first: The hyrax is not the Lorax. And it does not speak for the trees. It sings, on its own behalf. The hyrax is a bit Seussian, however. It looks something like a rabbit, something like a woodchuck. Its closest living relatives are elephants, manatees and dugongs. And male rock hyraxes have complex songs like those of birds, in the sense that males will go on for five or 10 minutes at a stretch, apparently advertising themselves.

One might have expected that the hyrax would have some unusual qualities--the animals' feet, if you know how to look at them, resemble elephants' toes, the experts say. And their visible front teeth are actually very small tusks. But Arik Kershenbaum and colleagues at the University of Haifa and Tel Aviv University have found something more surprising.

Hyraxes' songs have something rarely found in mammals: syntax that varies according to where the hyraxes live, geographical dialects in how they put their songs together. The research was published online Wednesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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