Nature. 2004 Jul 29;430(6999):523.
Apart from echolocation and the pursuit of prey by bats, the function of ultrasound in animal communication is poorly understood. This is mainly because of the broad range of responses that it can evoke and the widely varied contexts in which it is used (for example, in rodents of the Muridae family it may indicate distress in infants or a sexual or predatory encounter in adults). Here we find that a purely ultrasonic signal is produced in the wild by a rodent of the Sciuridae family, Richardson's ground squirrel, and show that its function is to warn conspecifics of impending danger. To our knowledge, ultrasonic alarm calls have not previously been detected in any animal group, despite their twin advantages of being highly directional and inaudible to key predators.