How Do Animals Communicate?

By Meg Michelle
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Animal communication spans far beyond barks, chirps and growls. Creatures use a vast array of signs to convey information to their companions -- and their prey. Using everything from bright visuals to smelly pheromones, animals can communicate about danger, food, friendship and more.

Vocal Communication

Vocal signals are one of the most prevalent ways animals communicate with one another. For example, bird songs can carry a warning to other birds of danger in the area. Certain animals, such as bats, can use sounds to locate prey. Some acoustical communication can be considerably more complex. For example, primates can respond to emotional indicators in vocal calls, such as which specific predator might be closing in.

Olfactory and Taste Communication

Animals can also communicate via smell and taste. Scent markers in wolf urine help the canines mark their territory and food caches. Honey bees use pheromones to communicate many facets of their society, such as reproduction, defense and food collection. Ants too leave for their fellow ants pheromone trails that lead to food sources. Some female moths also use scents to indicate that they are ready to mate.

Tactile Communication

Animals can also communicate through tactile signals. One example is the grooming performed by primates such as chimpanzees. This grooming helps build tighter relationships. Tactile communication can also take the form of aggressive behavior, such as biting or scratching. Duration is an important part of tactile communication. A nip may be a sign of playing while a hard bite might signal something more serious, such as a real fight.

Visual Communication

Visual signals are also important in the animal world. Many birds use bright feathers to assert territorial dominance. Colors can also be used for mating. The more brightly colored male birds' plumage or tails are, the more likely they are to attract females looking for the most fit mate. Animals also use color as a form of defense. Certain frogs are brightly colored, signalling that they are poisonous, preventing predators from eating them.

About the Author

An avid lover of science and health, Meg Michelle began writing professionally about science and fitness in 2007. She holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Creighton University and master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins. Her work has appeared in publications such as EARTH Magazine.