Free learning resources from arts, cultural and heritage organisations.

Previous section
High-Five! Physical Communication

Why Do We Care?

We know that animal communication can take many different forms for all sorts of reasons, and that the messages animals are sending can be complex and varied, specific or general, and even convey different things to different receivers at the same time. But why does it matter if we can understand them at all?

The more we know about the world around us, the better we can work to look after it.

From understanding whether our pets are happy and comfortable, to working out if the tiger or elephant at the zoo likes the new tree in their enclosure, understanding animal communication allows us to better understand the welfare of these animals, both at home and in the wild, and helps us work towards keeping them happy and healthy.

On a more global scale, understanding animal communication can help us with the conservation of endangered species. If we know how different animals communicate we can work out which types of human activity might endanger them further.

We know that whales call to each other over huge distances and that many other marine animals (like dolphins) use sonar to navigate and to find food. Huge cargo ships make a lot of underwater noise and all sorts of engines from smaller coastal boats can confuse or drown out the whale songs and dolphin sonar, making it difficult for these animals to survive and thrive. By carefully choosing where we allow shipping lanes to pass, or what types of boats we allow in certain coastal areas, we can better protect these animals and their habitats. Canadian songbirds have even been found to change their calls to make sure the most important information can still be heard over loud oil drilling machinery!

Knowing how pheromones work also helps us control pests. Moths can be a big pest species in museums; to help manage this issue, we can recreate mating pheromones to lure the troublesome moths into traps before they cause damage to objects or specimens. This lets us control animals without needing to rely on potentially dangerous chemicals that might affect other animals or damage the environment around them.

The world of animal communication is as complex as it is fascinating and there’s lots that we still don’t know.

Next time you’re out on a walk and you hear the birds singing, or you see a trail of ants foraging for food, have a listen and a look and try and work out what they might be trying to communicate to each other, or even to you!