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Animal communication

Animal communication encompasses a diverse range of methods, including nonverbal and visual cues, to convey information within and among species, and even with humans. Key functions of animal communication include mating rituals, territorial proclamations, food discovery, and alarm signals. It is crucial to avoid anthropomorphizing animals by attributing human emotions and thoughts to their behaviors, as their primary goal is survival and adaptation within their environment. Created by Brooke Miller.

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Video transcript

- [Voiceover] When humans communicate with one another, they tend to rely on a few things. So, first of all, we rely on language. We use it to communicate our ideas, thoughts and feelings, and also to respond to the ideas, thoughts and feelings of others. We also use a bunch of nonverbal cues, so we smile when we're happy, we frown when we're sad, we can tell if the people around us are anxious or angry. And we also use visual cues. So if I painted every room in my house black and blasted Metallica all day, I would be sending out different signals, different cues about myself, than if I was to paint every room in my house pink and cover everything in posters of ballerinas and unicorns. And other animals besides humans have ways of communicating as well. Maybe not with language per se, but with lots of different nonverbal cues and visual cues. As well as many other types of communication that aren't used by humans. And while we'll go over all of those different types of communications in a separate video, I wanted to take a little bit of time to talk about why animals communicate and why this is necessary. So one question we might want to ask is, "Who are animals communicating with?" So some species of animals might use different types of vocalization to communicate with members of the same species. But animals can also communicate with other animals that are not in their species. So, for example, some types of frogs use really bright colors to signal that they're toxic, which will let other animals know not to eat them. And of course, animals can also communicate with humans. Every morning my cats let me know when it's time for me to wake up and feed them. Or, at least, when they feel that I should wake up and feed them. But there's also autocommunication, so animals can also use communication to give information to themselves, and that's kind of a trickier one, but I think the best example might be bats and echolocation. So bats send out a signal, and then when that signal bounces back, they're able to gain information about the things in their environment. Alright, so animals can use communication to give information to themselves, to members of their same species, and also members of other species. But what type of information are these animals trying to convey? What is the main function of animal communication? Well, the first one would be mating rituals. Animals can produce a multitude of signals as a way to attract the opposite sex. Some are really brightly colors, others do complicated dances, and some do specific verbal calls. Animals also use communication to proclaim ownership or territory or to defend territory. So basically it's a way of telling other animals to back off. And I had birds as pets in my house when I was growing up, and my birds were extremely kind, they would sit on your shoulder, they would try to eat all of your food, and they were just generally really social. When they laid eggs, they got really territorial. They would basically try to take your finger off if you got too close to them. Another function of animal communication is food communication. So, signalling to other animals where they can find food. There's also alarm calls, or cases where animals will try to warn others about the presence of a predator. Animals can also use communication as a way to signal dominance and submission. So, for example, after dogs fight, they might adapt different stances to indicate who came out on top. But one thing I want to make sure to say, before we actually go into really talking about all of the different ways that animals can use to communicate, is that I want to say that, while it's clear that animals do communicate, both which each other and with us as humans, we need to be really careful that we don't put too much thought into this. We need to be careful not to anthropomorphize, or attribute too many human characteristics to nonhuman animals. So we can try to interpret and try to ascribe meaning to the actions of animals, but we can never really be certain that we are correct, because we can't really ask the animals what they mean. So my cats sleep with me at night, and they usually sit with me when I'm on the couch, and I would like to assume that it's because they love me and want to be with me, but it's possible that they're also only trying to keep physical contact with me because I produce a lot of body heat. And that it is that motivation rather than love that explains my cats' behaviors.