Angela Dassow

  • Chair, Biology Department; Associate Professor of Biology
    Email Address:
    Office location:
    Straz Center 68

    Professor Angela Dassow received her B.S. degrees in wildlife ecology and entomology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2003. After spending several years as the head preparator and assistant curator of herpetology at a natural history museum, she joined Prof. Michael Coen’s lab and earned her M.S. in zoology in 2010 and Ph.D. in zoology in 2014. She joined the Carthage faculty in 2015.

    Prof. Dassow’s research focuses on computational analyses of animal vocalizations, exploring correlates with human linguistic phenomena at the phonetic, morphological, and syntactic levels. This work has centered on understanding the vocal communication systems of wild and captive white-handed gibbons (Hylobates lar); however, she has examined other species as well, ranging across a variety of taxa including cetaceans, bats, canids, and songbirds. By combining aspects of ecology, linguistics, computer science, and information theory, we are able to gain new insights into the communicative abilities of white-handed gibbons and demonstrate previously unrecognized complexity and structure in their vocal communication system.

    Audio Clips:

    White-handed gibbons (Hylobates lar) produce a female-specific great call and male-specific coda sequence to announce their territory at the Racine Zoological Society. Listen to the audio clip 

    Media Mentions:

    Animal Welfare Institute Funds Original Research on Human-Wildlife Conflicts

    Professor Dassow is one of six recipients to receive Animal Welfare Institute funding for original research on human-wildlife conflicts. (Animal Welfare Institute, November 12, 2019)

    Ape Conversations: Researchers Listen To, Analyze Gibbons At The Racine Zoo

    Prof. Dassow researches the vocalizations of two white-handed gibbons at the Racine Zoo. (WUWM 89.7, August 8, 2019)

    Carthage team records sweet, yet secret language of gibbons

    Prof. Dassow and two students, Joy Layton and Azniv Khaligin, study the complex language of two gibbons at the Racine Zoo. (Kenosha News, July 2, 2019)

    Carthage Researchers Study Gibbons to Understand How Vocal Evolution Led to Human Speech
Prof. Dassow along with students Azniv Khaligian and Joy Layton study the vocalizations of gibbons at the Racine Zoo. (Journal Sentinel, July 1, 2019)

    What I Learned in Puerto Rico

    Prof. Angela Dassow discusses her experiences in Puerto Rico during J-Term 2019. (Urban Milwaukee, April 3, 2019)

    Women in science have made ground-breaking contributions

    Prof. Dassow writes a compelling opinion editorial about Women in STEM and their powerful contributions to modern science. (Kenosha News, March 25, 2019)

    Girls inspired by ‘Women in Science’ event

    Prof. Dassow participates in Kenosha Public Museum event celebrating women in science. (Kenosha News, March 23, 2019)

    Insects: A new source of protein coming to a supermarket near you
    Prof. Angela Dassow says eating insects is healthy and good for the environment. (Kenosha News, December 2, 2018)

    • Ph.D. — Zoology, University of Wisconsin-Madison
    • M.S. — Zoology, University of Wisconsin-Madison
    • B.S. — Wildlife Ecology and Entomology, University of Wisconsin-Madison
    • BIO 1010 Concepts in Biology
    • BIO 1110 Molecules, Cells, and Organisms

    • BIO 1120 Organisms, Populations, and Systems

    • BIO 2200 Introduction to Ecology

    • BIO 3100 General Ecology
    • BIO 3210 Animal Behavior 
    • BIO 3320 Entomology

    • BIO 400A Vertebrate Ecology
BIO 4120 Senior Seminar

    • BIO 4900 Research in Biology

    “One of the goals of my research is to explore the vocal and gestural communication systems of vertebrates by characterizing commonalities derived through evolution, comparing developmental differences within clades, and searching call sequences for the potential of linguistic structure. 

    My other main research goal is to develop and use Passive Acoustic Monitoring to aid in conservation efforts of rare and endangered species. Most of this work is done in collaboration with Fauna and Flora - Vietnam, where we study the critically endangered Cao-vit gibbon (Nomascus nasutus).

    Prior to focusing my research on bioacoustics and animal behavior, I studied the population dynamics of white-tailed deer, gray wolves, Blanding’s turtles, painted turtles, snapping turtles, trumpeter swans, a variety of waterfowl, raptors and songbirds, porcupines, and central Wisconsin dragonflies. I have also examined the impact of temperature variation on the sex ratios of hatchling fresh-water river turtles in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil.”

    Hylobatidae – Lesser apes

    “One of the species I work with is the white-handed gibbon (Hylobates lar). This species is native to Southeast Asia, it lives in female-led territorial groups and it primarily communicates by using a diverse set of vocalizations. To date, I have been able to identify and describe the vocal repertoire of this species, which consists of 27 statistically distinctive acoustic units. I have also been able to identify motivational and referential sequences of their predator warning calls. Current research efforts are focused on understanding great call and coda development between wild and captive populations.

    The other species I work with is the critically endangered Cao-vit gibbon (Nomascus nasutus). This species was thought to be extinct, but it was rediscovered in Northern Vietnam. Our current efforts are focused on characterizing the vocal repertoire, mapping out territory boundaries and developing automated detection algorithms of their vocalizations as a means to passively track their movements in the wild.” 

    Canidae – Gray wolves

    “In collaboration with the Timber Wolf Information Network, we are exploring the possibility of tracking gray wolves (Canis lupus), by recording their howls and then analyzing these calls to search for acoustic markers that can identify individuals.  To date, we have been able to cluster sets of howls accurately and our future challenges will include adding more individuals to our data set, tracking vocal changes over time, and correctly classifying unlabeled howls.”

    Hominidae – Western lowland gorillas

    “University of Mississippi Anthropology Professor Dr. Carolyn Freiwald and I are collaborating on a project to conduct the first formal study of lowland gorilla behavior at the Memphis Zoo. The goal of this research is to determine what the activity budgets are for each gorilla. To accomplish this, we are building an ethogram of various foraging, locomotor, and agonistic behaviors between the four gorillas currently housed there.”

    Turtle Robots

    “Vocal production in freshwater turtles is an emerging field of study.  Several species of turtles have already been recorded, vocal repertoires described and in the case of one species, maternal care has been associated with vocal interactivity with hatchlings. Current challenges include tracking hatchling turtles once they leave their nesting beach. Their small size makes radio transmitters prohibitive, but a turtle-tracking robot could follow a turtle and record the vocal interactivity between hatchlings. The main goal of this research is to build and deploy an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) to track a hatchling turtle and record its’ vocal interactivity.”

    Student Projects

    “I advise students on undergraduate research related to each of my on-going projects. I am happy to speak with prospective students about their ideas and interests.”

    Student Presentations


    • Menendez, A., Groszek, A, & Dassow, A. Passive Acoustic Monitoring of Cao-Vit Gibbons (Nomascus nasutus) Utilizing Multilaterations of Vocalizations. NCUR Poster


    • Khaligian, A., Layton, J., Utter, J. & Dassow, A. Function of onset timing in white-handed gibbon (Hylobates lar) communication. NCUR Poster


    • Khaligian, A. & Dassow, A. Patterns of play behavior in white-handed gibbons (Hylobates lar). Celebration of Scholars
    • Utter, J. & Dassow, A. Role of White-handed Gibbon (Hylobates lar) Hoo Note Vocalizations In Response To Different Predator Types. Celebration of Scholars
    • Roschii, R. & Dassow, A. Examining Onset Timing and Duration of Duet Production in Wild White-handed Gibbon (Hylobates lar) Vocalizations. Celebration of Scholars
    • McKinnon, K. & Dassow, A. Examining the behavioral ontogeny in captive white-handed gibbons (Hylobates lar). Celebration of Scholars
    • McCombe, C. & Dassow, A. Refining acoustic unit classification of the Hylobates lar vocal repertoire. Celebration of Scholars
    • Layton, J. & Dassow, A. Characterizing the Play Vocalization of Captive White-handed Gibbons (Hylobates lar). Celebration of Scholars


    • Khaligian, Azniv and Layton, Joy. Play behavior in captive white-handed gibbons (Hylobates lar). Midstates Poster
    • Hull, Cara. Analysis of Great Call Vocalizations in Captive and Wild Adult White-handed Gibbons (Hylobates lar). Celebration of Scholars Poster
    • DeRoach, Olivia and Yont, Ryan. Analysis of Male White-handed Gibbon (Hylobates lar) Songs in Response to Predator Models. Celebration of Scholars Poster
    • McCombe, Caitlin. Redefining acoustic units found within the vocal repertoire of white-handed gibbons (Hylobates lar). Celebration of Scholars Poster
    • Roschi, Rachel. Examining Onset Timing of Great Call Production in White-handed Gibbon (Hylobates lar) Vocalizations. Celebration of Scholars Poster
    • Van Dame, Katherine and McKinnon, Kathryn. Activity Budgets of White-Handed Gibbons (Hylobates lar) at the Racine Zoological Society. Celebration of Scholars Poster
    • Khaligian, Azniv and Layton, Joy. Play vocalizations in white-handed gibbons (Hylobates lar). SURE Poster


    • Hull, Cara and McCombe, Caitlin. Vocal features used to determine individuality among wild gray wolves (Canis lupus). Celebration of Scholars Poster
    • Steffen, Alexandra. A study of foraging behavior in Western Lesser Bamboo Lemur (Hapalemur occidentalis). Celebration of Scholars Poster
    • DeRoach, Olivia, Steffen, Alexandra and Yont, Ryan. An Examination of great call production between wild and captive White-handed gibbons (Hylobates lar). Celebration of Scholars Poster
    • McKinnon, Kathryn and Van Dame, Katherine. Activity budgets of lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) at the Memphis Zoo. Celebration of Scholars Poster
    • Hull, Cara and McCombe, Caitlin. Acoustic Signatures as Aids in Monitoring Longevity in Wild Roaming Gray Wolves (Canis lupus). NCUR Poster


    • Hull, Cara and McCombe, Caitlin. Acoustic Signatures as Aids in Monitoring Longevity in Wild Roaming Gray Wolves (Canis lupus). Midstates Poster
    • Hull, Cara and McCombe, Caitlin. Acoustic Signatures as Aids in Identifying and Monitoring Longevity in Wild Roaming Gray Wolves (Canis lupus). SURE Poster
    • Steffen, Alexandra. Examining atypical vocal production of great calls and codas in white-handed gibbons (Hylobates lar). Celebration of Scholars Poster