Unlike with humans, animals don’t have the ability to speak with each other, so animals communicate in their own special way using sounds, scent, visual display, touch, or other sensory signals. Typically, one signal only has one meaning; unlike with humans which can give a greater picture by using words.

Some of the communication methods of animals include:

• Vocal communication

Sound is a good way to communicate because it can be turned on and off as the animal needs it.

These calls can mean many different things for instance, to indicate territories, alarm calls, to attract potential mates, to keep in contact with others in a specific social structure, between a mother and her offspring, and even to locate prey with eco-location.

Sounds are also good because it can be heard over long distances; elephants can communicate with each other over about 15km’s and humans can even hear a lion’s roar up to 8km’s away.

• Visual communication

There are many ways for animals to communicate with visual display, so I am only going to touch on a few of them.

These signals can be anything from a facial expression, body language and facial markings. Elephants raise their large ears to make them look even bigger. Baby cheetahs up to about 3 months have grey-white hair down their backs to make them look like a honey badger (a very aggressive animal). Glow worms and fireflies use flashing signals to indicate their species and readiness to mate. The aerobatic display of the Red Crested Korhaan is also a way to attract the attention of a female (they fly up high and close their wings to drop down to the ground). Colour is also used to display threat displays, but can also be used as a follow-me sign for the babies to follow their mother.

• Olfactory communication (Scent marking)

By using scent animals can convey information on sex, age, social status, group membership, emotional state, reproductive condition and individual identity.

Animals like lions, leopards and cheetahs will scent-mark as a way to mark their territories by spraying urine backwards onto vegetation at nose level or by scratching their feet while urinating down in the same spot.

Animals like impalas and rhinos have middens that they use time and time again to convey different messages. Most of the ungulates have a pre-orbital gland just in front of their eyes that they will then drag through vegetation to leave a specific scent.

• Tactile communication (touch)

Contact behaviour is generally demonstrated by social animals. Lions have a greeting ritual of rubbing their heads together when they meet to strengthen the bond but also to show peaceful intentions.

Baboons, monkeys and the dwarf mongoose do allo-grooming to strengthen the bond between the groups.

Some babies need to feel their mother in order to find her nipple and milk and also to provide heat for the baby.

Zebra mothers and their foals will groom each other by using their incisors and lips to scrape and nibble each other to strengthen the bond between them.

Stefan – Kapama River Lodge

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