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The thunderous calls of common hippos can be heard from more than half a mile (1 kilometer) away — and when a hippo hears the booming call of an unfamiliar hippo, the animal often responds by letting loose a dramatic spray of dung.      

Hippos (Hippopotamus amphibius) spray dung as a way to mark their territory, but until now, scientists didn’t know that an unfamiliar hippo’s call could provoke this behavior in another hippo. In a new study, published Monday (Jan. 24) in the journal Current Biology, researchers observed hippos at the Maputo Special Reserve in Mozambique and found that the animals recognize and respond differently to the calls of different hippos in the area, depending on whether those hippos live in the same territory, a neighboring territory or somewhere farther away.    

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