As three spiky creatures walked out of a rock cave in Australia, a nearby microphone captured their wheezing, exhales and “cooing.” The first-of-its-kind audio settled a scientific debate and suggested the animal may have a “language of love.”
The first time that researchers at Dryandra National Park heard an echidna make this “cooing” sound, they found it “really unusual” but “didn’t have any mechanism with us to record it,” Christine Cooper told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Echidnas are spiky, egg-laying mammals native to and found across Australia, according to the Australian Museum. Reaching less than 2 feet in size, echidnas use their claws, snouts and long tongues to feed on insects.
Scientists have long believed that echidnas “only” made “‘sniffing’ noises” and had no vocalizations or auditory communication, according to a Sept. 26 study published in the Journal of Zoology. Instead, the animals were documented using forms of “chemical and vibratory communication.”
But while observing echidnas, Cooper and her co-authors heard several animals make “dove-like cooing sounds,” the study said. They documented five such instances, three of which were recorded.
Researchers identified four types of echidna sounds in their recordings: “exhalations, wheezes, grunts and cooing tones.”
The first-of-its-kind audio recordings were shared by Curtin University on Twitter, now rebranded as X. The “cooing” sounds softer and lower pitched than the wheezing or exhalation sounds that researchers identified as byproducts of the animal’s breathing.
Listen to these rare recordings of #echidnas cooing and grunting, captured by @CurtinUni researcher @CECooperEcophys - could this be their ‘language of love’?
Read more: https://t.co/hsyV0AMuXj#CurtinUniversity #CurtinResearch pic.twitter.com/bXcCfQE22a
— Curtin Media (@CurtinMedia) September 27, 2023
“The echidnas made the (cooing) sounds when they were alone or with another echidna,” Cooper said in a Sept. 27 news release from Curtin University. “However these sounds were made only rarely, and all the vocalizations recorded occurred exclusively during the breeding season.”
The vocalizations might be the echidna’s “language of love,” the release said.
“Although we don’t know the purpose or understand the meaning of the short-beaked echidna’s grunting and cooing,” the timing suggests that “echidnas only find their voice when reproductively active,” Cooper said in the release.
Researchers described the rare recordings as “unequivocal evidence for vocalization by short-beaked echidnas,” the study said.
Dryandra National Park is along the southwestern coast of Australia, about 80 miles southeast of Perth and across the continent from Sydney.
The research team included Cooper, C. Erbe, P. C. Withers, J. M. Barker, N. Ball and L. Todd-Jones.