4 Types of Communication Between Animals

Verbal communication is not the only one that exists and not the most effective of all. Animals use many more methods to send messages to their peers.
4 Types of Communication Between Animals

Last update: 21 April, 2021

Humans, so tied to verbal language, sometimes fail to understand communication between animals. However, their world is as complex and diverse as ours when it comes to transmitting messages.

In the following lines, we bring you a review of the different forms of communication that animals use to understand each other. You’ll be surprised by everything that they can communicate without words.

Types of communication between animals

It isn’t only necessary to take into account the ability to articulate a spoken language when analyzing communication between animals. Each species processes the stimuli of the environment in its own way, so that its messages are adapted to the sensory diversity of all its receptors.

Zoosemiotics is the name given to the set of signals that animals use to communicate. These signals, which can be directed at your own species or others, are many and equally interesting.

1. Chemical communication

Chemical communication occurs through pheromones, which are chemical substances released into the environment by volatility and whose objective is to activate a physiological response in another individual. Being an ancient mechanism – phylogenetically speaking – it’s related to very basic processes, such as mating.

However, some species use chemical communication in an interesting way. This is the case with ants, which deposit traces of pheromones behind them to guide their companions towards food sources. They also communicate their social status in the colony through these substances.

Pheromones are present in bodily fluids, such as sweat or urine. Many animals communicate through them, such as dogs.
Ants communicating.

2. Auditory communication

Communication through sounds is one of those that most connect with human beings. Auditory messages have the advantage of not needing visual or tactile contact and are useful for a multitude of species when it comes to marking territory, looking for a mate, or warning of predators.

Birds are the clearest example of auditory communication, but there are other very interesting forms, such as the use of ultrasound in cetaceans. Sound waves don’t only travel through the air, such as ultrasonic sonars in bats or infrasound in the case of elephants.

Communication between animals can be very varied.

3. Communication between animals by visual means

Sight is essential for the survival of many species and not just for looking for food or seeing the predator approach. Visual cues can range from specific body postures to aposematic color, which indicates that it isn’t a good idea to eat an arrow frog, for example.

Color changes are also interesting signs: it can be voluntary, as with some squid which camouflage themselves, or it can be linked to changes in the body.

For the latter, a good example is found in female baboons (genus Papio), whose reproductive organs turn bright red in their fertile stage.

Communication between animals is complex.

4. Tactile signals

Touch is another sense that isn’t highly developed in humans, and so it’s difficult for us to imagine the richness of its nuances. It’s true that the range is restricted to the distance between organisms, but it’s clear that all species benefit from it. Few mammals socialize without physical contact.
Tactile signals are quite common in insects. Bees use tactile signals within the darkness of the hive in their famous dance to indicate the position of the food.
However, tactile cues aren’t just limited to physical contact. The vibrations are part of the courtship ritual of some species of spider, and elephants can tell who is approaching in the distance by the vibrations of their footsteps. There are even species of fish that communicate through electrical signals.
Queen bee with her minions.

As you can see, it’s possible to communicate in a rich and effective way without using words. In fact, the communicative complexity of some species, such as the dolphin, calls into question human exclusivity when it comes to calling the signals we emit a language. Although many of them don’t speak, to understand animals you only need to know which sense to use.

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