20
Feb

Prof. Donald Broom – Decoding Animal Language


I think all social animals have complex communication, which may not all be visual or auditory. It could be smells as well. Decoding Animal Language If you live in the water, then the pressure
around you varies in subtle ways, and so fish are getting information from other fish, which is via pressure senses. So, there are various ways of communicating. We are not very good at the olfactory one. When you look at a dog, the dog is investigating what other dogs have
done in the past, and what other animals have done in the past, and it’s getting a lot of information, which
is communication of a sophisticated nature, which we don’t know about and we can’t do
very well. There are things which we can’t do that other
animals can do. So we need to look at the whole of their sensory
ability in order to consider whether they have got
language, you have to think of all their abilities. I would say that all the social animals have
some degree of language. That means we’re certainly including birds
and mammals and fish in that, and probably cephalopods like squid, which
live in social groups. They seem to have some level of it. A cuttlefish can communicate by changing its
colour. A cuttlefish is a cephalopod mollusc, and there are examples of them showing emotional changes which are different on the two sides of the body, because they’ve got different individuals
whom they’re communicating with in different ways on the two sides of their body. We can’t do that, and they can. They can change colour and communicate emotional
change or their emotional state to two different individuals in different
ways at the same time. Quite a few animals are more sophisticated
and complex than we are in terms of communication. The social insects are remarkable in the efficiency
of their communication, in that a lot of it is by odor. So they are giving information by odor, which is quite sophisticated information. And social insects also of course can use
visual cues. We know that bees can indicate to other bees
where a food source is, and how good a food source it is, so that the other bees can use that information
and go out there. That’s been known for 50 years. But it’s actually a more sophisticated situation
than we originally thought. So social insects are able to communicate
using odor and using vision and using sounds. Also they can learn routes, how to go from
one place to another in an efficient way. Having learnt a route, they can cut across corners because they’ve worked out the route in their head. So they have quite a sophisticated ability
in terms of moving around their environment and communicating to others. It’s probably less complex than what vertebrate
animals can do, so some vertebrates are a bit better at it. We are very good at it, we are very good at
navigating.

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