I’m not Lion, Animals ComMEWnicate!

Whether you are a cat person, a dog person, or anything in between, there most likely has been a moment we looked at our pets and thought “Man, I wish you could talk.” Well, what if I told you they can! Animals DO communicate, and if we pay attention there is a lot we can learn to “talk” with them! Animals and humans are more similar than you might think using chemical signals, vibrations and sounds, and even movement that can be witnessed in human interactions, too.

Most of us are familiar with the chemical signals animals unleash, but what do they mean? Those of us who have cats, or have been around them, have most likely experienced them rubbing against an object or the not-so-pleasant spraying from male cats. That is a cat letting you and other animals know it has claimed that object as its own.  Skunks are famous for their chemical signals, using their very pungent spray as a threat to anything that gets in their way!

Chemical signals are not the only form of communication, just ask animals such as elephants, jumping spiders, and Caribbean white-lipped frogs which communicate primarily through vibrations. Elephants use low-frequency calls that travel through the ground in the form of seismic waves to communicate with other elephants miles away. On the other hand, jumping spiders vibrate their bodies and special organs to find a mate…and reduce the chances of his suitor eating him. Caribbean white-lipped frogs also communicate through vibrations, burying their heads into the mud and expanding their vocal sacs to send out vibrations to potential mates.

Vibration-based communication may be fairly common in the animal world, but the most well understood nonverbal communication takes the form of body language.  Generally, we learn the most about animals from how they act during different situations. For example, when cats are happy their bodies are relaxed, their whiskers are to the side, and their ears are pointing forward. When cats are mad they keep their bodies and tails low to the ground and their whiskers and ears down to let you know not to mess with them. Animals constantly give signals to tell us what they are thinking, and they are similar to some that we as humans express.

There are awe inspiring interactions happening all around us that sometimes we fail to appreciate. Dogs, for example, are man’s best friend and they teach us every day to love unconditionally by expressing never-ending loyalty and respect. Ants teach us the importance of working together as a team to collaborate rather than compete. And all animals can teach us to not take ourselves so seriously and to let go of our attachment of being right or wrong. If we do, we will begin to fully embrace times we enjoy and align ourselves with what we value most. Animals teach us all valuable life lessons, and it is our job to listen.

By: Carrie Caldwell,  Biology major at IUPUC

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