When we think of any kind of communication, we probably think of noises first because talking is one of the main ways that humans communicate with each other.
Lots of animals use this kind of auditory communication. You might be able to name all sorts of animal noises, but do you have any idea what they’re saying to each other? We use all sorts of words to describe animal noises, like ‘woof’ and ‘meow’ and ‘quack’.
Different countries have different words for all these noises too, such as Japanese cats that go ‘nyan’ and Albanian pigs that go ‘hunk’! Do you know any others already?
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Some animals use their sounds as warnings. Birds can use their song to tell others how large their territory is and when to keep on flying. Rattlesnakes use the loud shaking of their tail to warn off potential predators when they get too close, the same way a dog might growl or a cat might hiss.
Other animals, like meerkats, use alarm calls to let other members in their group or family know about danger that might be nearby.
But it’s not all fighting and fear when it comes to animal noises! If you hear birdsong, it might also be a male bird trying his best to impress a female, or even teaching a song to baby birds. Gibbons sing to each other over miles of jungle and Humpback Whale songs can be heard over thousands of miles in some parts of the ocean!
Some animal communication even occurs outside of the range of human hearing, like certain whale songs or the low tones used by elephants to communicate over vast distances.
Not all animal noises are vocal. Insects don’t have vocal organs like humans but have still developed complex auditory communication methods. Cicadas, for example, have special sound producing organs called tymbals and their calls are so specific that you can tell which species is singing based on the patterns of sound it makes.
Mosquitos have poor eyesight and rely on the buzzing of their wings to determine suitable mates. When a male and a female mosquito are near each other, the tones created by their wings will harmonise, telling each that they have found a potential mate.
Tenrecs are small, nocturnal mammals that resemble hedgehogs, and are found only in Madagascar.
The adults have special quills on their back that can rub together, producing a high pitched chirp. This noise helps guide lost baby tenrecs back to their parent in the dark undergrowth!
These are the only mammals we know of that communicate in this way.
Animal auditory communications are very complex and scientists are still trying to figure out exactly what some animals are saying to one another.
Nocturnal – Used to describe animals that are active at night.