Lonely Planet Writer

Why the singing indri lemur is music to the ears in Madagascar

They say all God’s creatures have a place in the choir, but did you know that the indri, the musical lemur native to Madagascar, mostly synchronises with its choirmates?

The indri is critically endangered and is one of the only species of singing primates in the world. Its dulcet tones – well some might call them roars – are regularly heard in Madagascar, the island country in the Indian Ocean off the coast of southeast Africa.

Indri in tree in Perinet Reserve, Madagascar.
Indri in tree in Perinet Reserve, Madagascar. Image by Wolfgang Kaehler /Getty Images

A recent study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience found that as soon as one indri starts to sing, most of the group members join in and they tend to synchronise their notes and match each other’s rhythms.

According to the study’s authors, although most of the singing didn’t overlap, the indris reliably co-sang certain parts of their song with other group members. Males and females sang at different pitches, but unlike humans, the males hit higher notes more frequently than the females.

This particular primate is one of the world’s largest living lemurs, and it has a black and white coat and lives in small family groups. The groups are quite vocal, and they communicate with other groups by singing, roaring and other vocalisations. In the study, the younger, lower-ranking males were more often heard singing out of sync with the rest of the chorus, and it was felt that this might be a way for them to advertise their fighting ability to members of other groups and signal their individuality to potential sexual partners.

The advantage of synchronised singing is that it produces louder songs, which may deter other indris from trespassing on an individual group’s territory. While it is an endangered species, the indri is revered by the Madagascans and it plays an important role in their myths and legends.