Naturally Social: Cool Ways Animals Communicate
Images via: (Bitter N Sweet, Liting Yu, Ian Salang, Journey Forth)
If you’ve ever owned a pet that was sick, you likely know the feeling of wishing you could communicate with the animal to know just what was bothering him or her. Unfortunately for humans, we are not always able to communicate with animals in ways that they are capable of doing with members of their own species. From the impressive language and dialect of prairie dogs to the “beyond-human-hearing” rumbles of elephants to the numerous distinctive cries of chickens, animal communication truly is a testament to the intelligence of these creatures. While animal communication may be used to evoke many emotions — love, anger, worry, etc. — here’s hoping this list will leave you feeling amazed and even a little bit appreciative of the unique and intricate ways animals share information.
Loud and Profound Barking: Prairie Dog Language
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What may sound like loud barking to humans actually has much more meaning to prairie dogs, who maintain a complex communication system that resembles nouns and verbs. Acoustic analysis of prairie dog barking has revealed that this intricate communication is marked by different tones that maintain different meanings. Specifically, most prairie dog barking communicates information about imminent threats like hawks, dogs and even humans, and gets as detailed as the size and shape of the potential predators. Even more interesting, prairie dogs from different areas have their own dialects. So the next time you hear a prairie dog barking — perhaps in the wild or at the zoo — know that something much deeper is being communicated.
Soft but Meaningful Elephant Rumbles
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With their loud screams and trumpets, elephants wouldn’t seem to have a silent “ivory bone” in them. Well, apparently, they do. Through rumbles that are below human hearing, elephants are able to communicate with distant elephants for various purposes, including coordinating group behaviors, luring mates, reproducing and establishing dominance. Amazingly, the lower the elephant infrasound, the farther it travels. Say what? I almost couldn’t hear you for a moment.
Chick Power: Clucking in the Womb and for Food
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It’s safe to say that it’s very hard to get chickens to shut up. Twenty-four hours before birth, baby chicks make peeping noises in the egg, with the mother chicken responding in soothing tones to provide assurance that everything is alright. In life, chickens learn and communicate more than 20 distinctive calls, including alarm calls when danger is near. Just a few years ago, researchers confirmed that the “tck, tck, tck” sound chickens make while pecking actually signifies the presence of food to other chicken and spurs them on to search for more food. Makes sense, I guess, that an animal that tastes so good maintains its owns exquisite “chicken language” for food.
The Universal Language of Animal Love
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Many animals display affection to each other through unique forms of physical communication. The aforementioned elephants entwine their trunks, while swans do the same, only with their necks. Like a lovestruck couple in the stages of puppy love, horses rub their noses together while giraffes put their necks next to each other as displays of affection. A precursor to the handshake, chimps greet each other by touching hands. In similar lights, male fiddler wave their hands — make that, their giant claws — to attract females. While certainly not the cleanliest form of affection, amoeba leave a chemical discharge to attract potential mates. Oh, what some will do for love.
Avoiding Harm through Communication that Alarms
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Of course, an essential role of animal communication is to alarm other members of the species of any dangers, as seen above in the examples with prairie dogs and chickens. By thumping their hind legs, kangaroos inform their mates of danger. Like a nervous twitch, white tail deers flick their tails to warn others of imminent danger. As a means to express anger, gorillas stick out their tongues, a sign that play time is over.
Other Interesting Forms of Animal Communication
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Why are dogs considered man’s best friend? Because they care considerably about their masters. Specifically, dogs will study the expressions of their owners to differentiate when humans mean business or are ready to engage in some fun. And then there’s those prairie dogs, which continue to amaze. To determine friends from enemies, prairie dogs will show their teeth and press the mouths together. I’ve heard of secret handshakes and things of that nature, but the prairie dogs certainly know how to take things to a whole new level, as already seen by their extensive vocabulary.