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

How Animals Communicate and What We Can Learn from Them

I chose this topic because it was one that really speaks to me.  I’m not one for politicians or even pop culture, but one thing I do know and love is animals.  Having three dogs of our own can be a handful at times, but there isn’t a day that goes by where they don’t do something to surprise us or make us laugh.  One of the key problems that can occur between any human and animal is the lack of communication and understanding due to the language barrier.  Yes, we can teach a dog some key words through training, but for the most part they have their own natural train of thought and instincts that they get from the moment that they are born.

There are really three main types of communication in the animal world.  These are: visual, auditory, and chemical/electrical signals.  Visual signals are obviously ones that can be seen, which limits the proximity in which they are effective.  Typical types of visual signals among animals might be where it will change its color, stance, or its general appearance in a way that allows it to communicate a certain message to the other person or animal.

Dogs use visual signals in a variety of ways.  They will lay down to show submission or tense up to show aggression.  They perk their ears up, which indicates that they hear something or are nervous.  One of the most common examples, however, would be that they wag their tails to show that they are happy or excited.

Auditory signals are ones that can be heard, which is a much more effective form of communication if you are further away or if the person or animal they are trying to communicate with is not near them.  Auditory signals are most commonly used in the animal world for mating purposes, to scare away a threat, or to seek help.  Birds will combine visual and auditory signals during mating dances.  Wolves are known to howl when they are separated from their pack, to tell other individuals that they occupy a certain territory, or when they are showing a little love.

Dogs use auditory signals for a wide variety of reasons, much to the dismay of many of their owners.  I know there have been many times when I haven’t been happy because our dogs are yelping while we’re trying to sleep or watch a movie.  Dogs will bark because they want to play, to warn of potential threats or threaten intruders, to discipline their young, or they will bark just because they are curious or want your attention.

The key to determining why your dog is barking or what it means lies in the context.  For example, we recently got a new dog named Odin who is almost two years old.  Vada, who is 6 years old, is the pack leader and barks at home quite often as a means of discipline due to the fact that he is very hyper and curious all of the time.  Odin, on the other hand, will bark more often due to the fact that he wants to play.  Darth will bark or growl to threaten other dogs if they are trying to take his food or toy that he is fond of.

Chemical communication is primarily used as an indirect form of communication.  This is most easily explained by when a dog uses the bathroom on an object or area to mark their territory.  The dog isn’t directly informing anyone in most cases, but rather once another dog comes near it, the communication has been made.  Electrical signals are commonly used by some different types of fish to navigate and to find food.

In all of these instances, you have a sender and a receiver of information.  Over the years, the animal world has learned to identify what these different signals mean and how to interpret and use them.  For some animals, it takes time to learn how to produce a proper, effective signal.  Some animals, for example, will learn what smells or sounds are associated with a particular species.  They can learn to determine that a low pitched audible cue may be from a larger foe, while a high pitched sound is likely from something much smaller.

Using these instincts and this knowledge to their advantage is key to survival.  It’s something that we can learn to become more accustomed to in order to get along with them, understand them, and to appreciate them for who they are.  Becoming keener with our senses rather than relying on language alone can also help us to live better lives and adapt to various situations.  Being able to identify our fellow human’s body language, tones, and other signals will only make things better for us in the long run.  Especially for those of us who are married.