Prairie Dogs Do the Wave



Gunnison’s Prairie Dogs in Flagstaff Arizona jump yipping to survive. Credit: Darlene Stack

Researchers in James F. Hare’s biology lab at the University of Manitoba, determine the purpose of prairie dogs’ jump-yips which mimic “the wave” that can be seen in the crowd at football games.

Out of nowhere, prairie dogs, like the ones on the left,  will stand on their hind legs and leap while shrieking “wee-oo!” as shown in the video below.  

What astounded Hare was that these jump- yips are 100% contagious. Once instigated, every prairie dog in the colony will ‘do the wave” as if cheering.  Hare’s study provides explanation for the jump yip waves. Hare proposes that the jump- yip serves as an ‘all clear’ signal and is a means of social cohesion within the prairie dog colony.

After video recording 173 jump- yips within 16 prairie dog colonies, Hare concluded the the jump-yips are prairie dogs exhibiting reciprocal altruism.  The instigating prairie dog puts himself in danger to save the rest of the colony in hopes a fellow prairie dog will do the same in the future.

The videos implicate an important precursor to a more advanced understanding of the brain.  These contagious waves give insight to the contagious factor of yawning and laughing in humans.  Further studies have begun to look at the brain in the form of social participation rather than it’s own entity.

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Journal Source:

Catch the wave: prairie dogs assess neighbours’ awareness using contagious displays. Proc. R. Soc. B February 22, 2014 281 177720132153; 1471-2954. 

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