Food-offering calls in wild golden lion tamarins (Leontopithecus rosalia): evidence for teaching behavior?

Camille Aurelie Troisi, Will J. Hoppitt, Carlos R. Ruiz-Miranda, Kevin Neville Laland

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Many animals emit calls in the presence of food, but researchers do not always know the function of these calls. Evidence suggests that adult golden lion tamarins (Leontopithecus rosalia) use food-offering calls to teach juveniles which substrate (i.e., microhabitat) to forage on, or in, for food. However, we do not yet know whether juveniles learn from this aspect of the adults’ behavior. Here we examine whether juveniles learn to associate food-offering calls with a foraging substrate, as a step toward assessing whether these calls qualify as teaching behavior. We compared the performance of four wild juvenile golden lion tamarins that were introduced to a novel substrate while exposed to playbacks of food-offering calls (experimental condition) to the performance of three juveniles that were exposed to the novel substrate without the presence of food-offering playbacks (control condition). We varied the location of the novel substrate between trials. We found that food-offering calls had an immediate effect on juveniles’ interactions with the novel substrate, whether they inserted their hands into the substrate and their eating behavior, and a long-term effect on eating behavior at the substrate. The findings imply that juvenile golden lion tamarins can learn through food-offering calls about the availability of food at a substrate, which is consistent with (but does not prove) teaching in golden lion tamarins through stimulus enhancement. Our findings support the hypothesis that teaching might be more likely to evolve in cooperatively breeding species with complex ecological niches.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Primatology
VolumeFirst Online
Early online date21 Nov 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Nov 2018


  • Golden lion tamarins
  • Playback
  • Primates
  • Social learning
  • Teaching
  • Vocal communication


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