It is fascinating to discover that animals are very social beings and have their own unique ways of communicating through various squeaks, peeps, grunts, howls, dances, songs and wags. Their tonal range is wide as well, as they have different levels for greetings, expressing anger and happiness, and warnings. Just like human beings, animals communicate through four different ways: visual, chemical, auditory and tactile.
Animals might not be able to speak, but the noises and gestures they create all transmit information that is valuable and beneficial to their existence. Just like with humans, their body language, which they have mastered, holds deeper meaning beyond superficial impressions.
Nonverbal and verbal forms of communication
Animals emit various calls for their verbal mode of communication. Yet, they have more non-vocal—but still auditory—signals, such as a slap on water by a dolphin’s tail.
Some have tactile and chemical cues: animals can identify territories through scent and bioluminescence, while some species show postural gestures and other visual signals.
Peacocks display both types, through the visual display of their beautiful tail, and the brilliant bioluminescence of their bright and shimmering plumage. Ants discharge pheromones as their chemical cues for different purposes: to aid others in their forage for food; calling others to defend the colony; connecting with new females; and detecting if another ant is a friend or foe.
Prairie dogs have the widest vocabulary according to scientists. They bring their faces close together and bare their teeth to identify if the other is a foe or friend. Chickens make 20 different sounds for various purposes.
Interestingly, animals even have different dialects that depend on the region of origin. The blue whale is a very good example of this phenomenon. One study found that blue whales created different patterns of pitches, tones and pulses that were based on their location. It is the same with some bird species—would you believe that songbirds that live on borders with other songbirds are even bilingual? They may not be able to speak, but these birds can communicate by singing songs that their different neighbors find favorable.
Communication between different species
In most cases, animals exist symbiotically and understand each another in some way. The ears of spiny-tailed iguanas from Madagascar are well developed. Although vocal communication is non-existent, they can hear the warning calls of the Madagascar paradise flycatcher very well—the two share the same habitat and fall prey to raptors. As soon as it hears the flycatcher’s warning, the iguana is able to scamper to safety.
Other animals have adapted to noise pollution. Songbirds have modified their style of singing to be heard above human-created noise, producing shriller and louder songs; although, in the process, the styles became inferior and simple, thereby reducing the songs’ sexiness for female birds.
Body language among animals
Certain animals release pheromones to communicate by smell, which is also true with humans. This form of chemical messaging is essential for the social behavior and reproduction of deer, wolves, dogs and insects.
There are also other gestures that animals use to communicate. It has long been observed that bees dance to indicate they have found delicious nectar—the scout bee dances to both inform the hive and direct other bees to the nectar. Touching hands is the way chimpanzees greet one another, whereas male fiddler crabs wave their dominant (large) claw to attract females. The female fiddler crabs look at how vigorous the wave is and how large the male crab’s claw is—these are the signs of strength that provide the female with an assurance of good progeny.
Although the extent of the auditory and visual communication methods of whales is not yet fully known, the repeated act of whale breaching (leaping out of the water) is believed to be their way of sending signals to other whales.
White-tailed deer show alarm by flicking up their tails. To warn other kangaroos of approaching danger, they thump their hind legs.
Gorillas look fearsome due to their size and their overall look, although they seem docile enough. However, when they stick out their tongues, this means that they are very angry.
If you see your dog stretch its front legs out front and lower its body, it is a signal for play. Elephants with trunks entwined are showing affection. Giraffes, on the other hand, show their attraction to one another by pressing their necks together. For swans, entwining their necks can be a show of affection, or a sign that they are ready to fight. Just like Eskimos, horses show their affection by rubbing their noses.Sounds beyond human hearing
We know that dogs emit sounds that cannot be heard by humans—elephants do the same thing. They make very low rumbles that are too soft for humans to hear to communicate with other elephants, even across great distances. The sounds are for various purposes, including the establishment of dominance, for reproduction, to lure mates and to coordinate group behaviors. Researchers believe that the lower the infrasound, the farther the elephant rumble travels.
It truly is a fascinating world, isn’t it? Just like humans, it turns out that animals also communicate through verbal and nonverbal means.