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Animals also experience instant communication
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- In today's technology-rich culture, we have come to expect instant communication with others, even if they are across the globe from us. But what if there were no texts, emails, blogs or instant messages? What if there were no words? How would humans communicate?
Communication can be simply defined as the transfer of information from one or more individuals to others. I am communicating through this article, transmitting what I hope is interesting content to readers. I am using words on a printed page, but that is only one method.
People are not the only beings capable of communication. Animals -- and even plants -- use a variety of techniques to “talk” to one another.
Perhaps the most familiar communication method is through sound. People use spoken words or songs to communicate ideas and messages. Animals also use songs, calls or other vocalizations to send a variety of messages that range from warnings about pending danger to announcements of territory boundaries or the need for a mate.
Using our voice is a common means of conversing through sound, but it is not the only auditory method. Some species use specialized body parts to create sound through vibration or friction. A common example is the chirp of a cricket, which is created when the insect rubs its hind legs to create its characteristic mating sound. The warning rattle of a rattlesnake is another form of communicating a message to others.
Sound is an extremely important way of communicating for animals that live in places where visibility is limited. Humpback whales “sing” beautifully eerie songs that can be heard across hundreds of miles of water. This communication is critical to the gentle, marine animals, and biologists are concerned the rising level of human-caused noise pollution in the ocean is becoming harmful.
Visual communication is another common method of communication for people as well as animals. Wearing a team jersey tells others about your favorite sports team. Wearing a large rack of antlers tells other deer about the dominant player in the forest. Visual displays often highlight distinctive body parts, such as the red shoulder feathers on a male, red-winged blackbird or the red throat of a green anole lizard.
The cuttlefish and octopus can even change their entire body color in just a few seconds to communicate a variety of messages -- from threats to fear to readiness to breed. If you have pets, you know that wagging tails, bared teeth and flattened ears are ways dogs and cats use visual communication, even with their owners.
Scents -- olfactory communication -- are also used in wildlife communications. White-tailed deer and river otters use scent to mark and defend their territories, warning away potential intruders. Stink bugs are so named because they release a pungent smell to deter potential predators.
A less known form of wildlife communication is through seismic vibrations. In this case, animals generate seismic waves through drumming or striking a surface, creating a vibration that travels through a substance such as soil, spider webs or plant material. Vibrations are picked up by individuals in other locations, and messages are transmitted.
Communication is vital to a species’ survival. It helps individuals find mates, secure safe places to raise their young and protect against threats. The diversity in nature is seen not only in the wide variety of species, but also in the many ways they communicate. Animals may not text or use email, but they certainly use instant messages.
Editor’s Note: Extension Outdoors is a column authored by several different experts in the Mississippi State University Extension Service.