Coruros Spalacopus cyanus, social fossorial rodents from Chile, use a complex acoustic repertoire with eleven different true vocalisations and one mechanical sound in various behavioural contexts. The complex of contact calls is particularly well differentiated. Juvenile coruros produced six true vocalisations of which four were structurally identical to adult calls. One vocalization had components of two adult sounds and one occurred only in juvenile animals. Certain calls from the adult repertoire were lacking. The frequencies of sounds of juveniles were considerably higher than those of adults, with many sounds reaching the ultrasonic range. Nevertheless, pure ultrasonic sounds were not recorded. The frequencies of the analysed sounds of coruros extended from 0.17 to 20.33 kHz with dominant frequency components between 0.17 and 10 kHz. The acoustic properties of calls are suitable for transmission above and below ground, thus providing further indirect evidence that coruros are not strictly confined to an underground way of life. Indeed, the great variability of frequency ranges, with lower frequencies always being included, reflects a specialization for communication in variable acoustic environments. The most distinctive and unique vocalization of coruros is the long duration musical trilling (lasting up to two minutes), which is a long-distance call emitted in alarm and arousal contexts. Recordings of this call from natural burrows in the field in Chile showed similar structural features to vocalisations from captive colonies in the laboratory. Our findings provide a further example of matching physical properties of vocalisations to the acoustic conditions of the habitat. However, vocalisations in subterranean rodents consist almost exclusively of short-distance calls, the trilling of coruros being the notable exception. Since the selective pressure of the acoustic environment upon the evolution of short-distance vocalisations is probably minimal, we suggest that during their evolution, subterranean mammals have matched their vocalisations primarily to their hearing range and not directly to the acoustics underground. Hearing probably has been the primary target of natural selection, serving not only for communication but also for detection of predators (and, in carnivores, of prey).
subterranean rodent, acoustic communication, vocalisations, Spalacopus, alarm call