100 years ago this week, Mary Mallon was placed into
There are some animals with iconic languages: the songs of whales and birds, or the barking of dogs. But then there are the other animals who have straight out bizarre ways of talking to each other. Check out these animals that have developed amazing communication systems.
1. Prairie dogs have a surprisingly complex method of communication. Usually they bark or chatter to communicate. But what’s amazing about them is that they have specific words to identify a wide variety of things. Not only can they tell each other that a human is approaching rather than a different kind of predator, but they can even tell each other which human, through the color of the person’s shirt, their size, and their closeness.
2. Fairy wrens are a common source of food for butcher birds. So you’d think it would be unlikely that the wrens would develop a way to communicate to the butchers. But that’s just what male wrens have done. When the butchers chirp nearby, the fairy wrens will imitate it in a weird duet that’s something like a deadly Marco Polo game. It turns out the wrens do this to attract a mate, showing female birds how confident and strong they are.
3. Lots of animals sing, but one that you would never expect is a caterpillar. One species will rub a lip on its abdomen to make a song that sounds just like an ant queen. It confuses any ants around so much that they begin to treat the caterpillar as their new queen, sometimes even killing their old queen. They bring the caterpillar food, protect it, and carry it around, all thanks to some singing.
4. Fireflies don’t just glow to look pretty. They use the light as a kind of morse code, with different kinds of flashes used to communicate. Different species each have their own codes.
5. The Caribbean reef squid, like many cephalopods, can change the colors in its body. But this squid doesn’t just use the adaptation to mimic other animals or camouflage. The different patterns can convey everything from mood to invitations for mating.
6. Most of these methods of communication are about aiming to get across a message, but this is an example of someone who’s learned how to keep others from communicating. Peruvian warbling antbirds typically mate in pairs and will sing together to protect their territory. But if the male notices a single female, he starts singing a mating call for her. So what does his lady love do? She has figured out how to sing over and around him to completely disrupt his song and screw up his pitch so that he can’t attract a new mate.
7. Treehoppers are little bugs that drill into trees and drink the sap, excreting a sugary substance called honeydew afterwards. It turns out that geckos absolutely love the honeydew, and so they’ve learned how to shake their heads in order to communicate to the treehoppers that they’d like some honeydew please.
8. Elephants make all sorts of noises to communicate but one that’s extremely subtle is a sound wave that humans can’t even hear. Elephants can produce extremely low frequency sounds that travel over long distances and lets them communicate with each other from miles away.
9. The death-watch beetle has learned to communicate underground in tunnels by tapping at its tunnel to produce echoes and send messages.
10. Coral groupers are a species of fish that uses something like sign language to communicate. They shake their bodies in a kind of dancing movement to signal prey to each other.
11. Kangaroos thump their legs when danger is nearby.
12. If a gorilla wants to signal that it’s not playing around and is really angry, it will stick out its tongue.