Friday, December 29, 2006

Falsetto: A friend of mine, in college, had the world’s most hilariously artificial-sounding deep voice. Now, it turns out that that really is his natural voice, but I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t asked a mutual acquaintance who knew him in high school. It should come as no surprise that male humans do that kind of thing all the time, to reassert their alpha-male status and to pick up chicks, as it were. But the Times science section reminds us that, in this, humans are all just apples falling not very far from the tree:

A croak is how male green frogs tell other frogs how big they are. The bigger the male, the deeper the croak. The sound of a big male is enough to scare off other males from challenging him for his territory.

While most croaks are honest, some are not. Some small males lower their voices to make themselves sound bigger. Their big-bodied croaks intimidate frogs that would beat them in a fair fight.

Green frogs are only one deceptive species among many. Dishonesty has been documented in creatures ranging from birds to crustaceans to primates, including, of course, Homo sapiens. “When you think of human communication, it’s rife with deception,” said Stephen Nowicki, a biologist at Duke University and the co-author of the 2005 book “The Evolution of Animal Communication.” “You just need to read a Shakespeare play or two to see that.”

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