Understanding Animal Communication

Understanding Animal Communication Bat and Hone Bee

We all remember the movie about a man who could uniquely talk to animals. Reports tell us that portable sensors and artificial intelligence may make a form of human-animal communication possible. Unlike that movie and the work of Penny Patterson using sign language to communicate with Koko the gorilla, the research goal is understanding animal communication instead of expecting them to use human language. Researchers use digital bioacoustics to record the animals and artificial intelligence to interpret what they say.

So far, scientists have studied the communication of bats and bees. Using tiny digital bioacoustic recorders, researchers at Tel Aviv University have gathered bat communication at frequencies above the limit of human hearing, over 20,000 hertz. Computers lower the frequency and slow it down to make it audible to humans, and artificial intelligence compiles the data to make it intelligible. Gerry Carter at Ohio State University has determined that bats have individual names, or “signature calls.” They argue over food, and mother bats communicate with their babies.

Understanding animal communication can involve more than sounds. Dr. Tim Landgraf at Freie Universitat in Berlin has deciphered bee communication, which involves both sounds and body movement. He has decoded the signals which tell other bees where to find nectar or warn of danger. Landgraf even built a robot name RoboBee that can enter a hive and control what the bees do. For example, when he put nectar in a place where no honeybee had visited and then told the bees where the nectar was, they went there.

Helping animals avoid pollution and directing them to safe food sources are potential applications of this technology. It is essential to understand the big difference between communication and language. These examples and future research with animals involve communication. Language is far more than communication and deals with culture, morals, and symbolism. As this field of understanding grows, its uses will also increase, and ethical concerns will become apparent.

One has to wonder how Adam and Eve communicated in the garden. They certainly did not speak English. Bat communication is obviously different from bee communication. Understanding animal communication is challenging since every animal is different, but that shows another level of design that science is just now beginning to understand. The more we learn about the creation, the more we have to be amazed at the wisdom of the Creator.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

Reference: “How Scientists are Using AI to Talk to Animals” in Scientific American for May 2023, pages 26-27.

Animal Communication in Turtles

Animal Communication in Turtles
Arrau turtle swimming in a river

An interesting fact of science is that researchers investigate the natural world in terms of human actions. An excellent example of that is our understanding of animal communication. Recent studies have shown that turtles have a rather complex system of communication which researchers have missed because the communication is very low-pitched and quiet. The frequency of the turtle communication is below 20 hertz, putting it below human hearing limitations.

With new listening devices, researchers have found that baby turtles chirp to one another while they are still in their eggs. They discovered this communication in giant South American river turtles called arraus. The apparent purpose is to coordinate their hatching time. When all the baby turtles come out of their eggs at the same time, it dramatically improves their chances of making it to the river before being snatched by a predator. The researchers also found that mother turtles use sounds to respond to the calls of their young and shepherd them to the water.

You can add turtles to the growing list of animal communication with sounds above or below the frequencies that humans can hear. Examples of subsonic or ultrasonic communicators are whales, fish, bats, and numerous birds. God has designed life to have maximum survival potential. Being able to communicate is just one of the tools that animals have been given to enhance that objective.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

Reference: Lead research author Camila Ferrara of the Wildlife Conservation Society speaking to the Washington Post as reported in The Week magazine, February 3, 2023, page 22.

Turtle Talk – in Slow Motion

Turtle Talk - in Slow Motion

Technology makes it possible to hear animal communication that has gone unnoticed before. We are finding that animals we thought were silent actually use sounds to communicate with one another. Researchers at the University of Zurich in Switzerland captured sounds from 50 species of turtles, and they varied widely, including grunts, chirps, snorts, and whistles. Male turtles use sounds to woo females and as warnings while fighting with other males. Turtle talk can easily go unnoticed because it is infrequent.

We often think of turtles as being slow. Apparently, that applies to their communication also. Timing is the key. The researchers report that some turtles make a sound every two days or so. That’s probably why it hasn’t been noticed by humans before.

The Creator’s design gives all forms of life a way to communicate with others of their species. That ability is essential for reproductive purposes and allows the full exploitation of food reserves and warnings about enemies. It is obvious that high forms of life, such as monkeys and apes, communicate with sounds, but as science learns more about animal communication, we find surprising things such as turtle talk. God has given all life forms the unique equipment they need to live in varied environments.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

References: SmithsonianMag.com and The Week for December 9, 2022, page 21.