Illustration showing how seagull chicks know when predators are lurking
Illustration showing how seagull chicks know when predators are lurking

Infographic: Animal Embryos Coopt Sound to Survive and Thrive

Across the tree of life, animals use sound and other vibrations to glean valuable sensory information about their environments even before they are born.

amanda heidt
Amanda Heidt

Amanda is an associate editor at The Scientist, where she oversees the Scientist to Watch, Foundations, and Short Lit columns. When not editing, she produces original reporting for the magazine and website. Amanda has a master's in marine science from Moss Landing Marine Laboratories and a master's in science communication from UC Santa Cruz.

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Nov 1, 2021


Although scientists have long described embryos—whether ensconced in an egg or a womb—as passive agents, new research shows that they are in fact capable of sensing conditions in their external environments. By eavesdropping on the sounds of family members or sensing the quakes of an approaching predator, for example, developing young can alter their development or modify their behavior–a phenomenon known as acoustic developmental programming. In some cases, these prebirth adaptations affect lifelong fitness.

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