figure 44-10

Ants use chemical communication in the form of a pheromone trail, which other ants will follow. The ants above are following a trail on a leaf.

figure 44-11

The blurred image in the center of the hive is a bee vigorously performing a waggle dance. Her sisters are receiving information about the direction and distance of a food source in part by touch communication.

Ant pheromones, bird songs, whale song; these behaviors are all examples of communication, signals produced by one animal that result in some type of response in another. There are many ways animals can communicate, including sight, sound, chemicals, touch, and possibly even language.

Sight and Sound

Species living in open environments often use visual signals to provide rapid communication. Behavioral displays communicate within and between species. Bright colors often serve as a warning that an animal is poisonous. This is called aposematic (A-poh-suh-MA-tic) coloration. After several encounters, predators learn to associate this color or pattern with a bad experience. Some animals gain protection by looking like a dangerous animal. This strategy is called mimicry.

Nocturnal animals, and animals in habitats with restricted visibility, often use sound to communicate. Bullfrogs and crickets, for example, use sound to attract a mate. Elephants communicate at a frequency that is too low for humans to hear.


Chemical communication can convey information over greater distance and time than can communication by sight or sound. Some animals release chemicals called pheromones (FER-uh-mohns) that cause individuals of the same species to react in a predictable way. For example, ants leave a pheromone trail that other individuals can follow, as shown in Figure 44-10. Female moths release a pheromone that attracts a male of her species from miles away.


Species that inhabit dark hives or dens often communicate by touch in addition to using sound or chemicals. Honeybees use a display that includes sight, touch, and sound, shown in Figure 44-11, to communicate the direction and distance to a food source.


Most scientists have regarded language as a uniquely human behavior. In order for communication to be considered language, there are certain criteria that must be met. Among these are phonemes (sounds that can be combined to form words), productivity (many combinations of phonemes to produce different meanings), and grammar (rules for combining words that affect the meaning). Most animal communication lacks at least one of the characteristics of true language. Although animals do not use language systems for communication in the wild, it is possible that they can learn to use them. Research on language is being done with gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, parrots, dogs, and dolphins.

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