Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Animal Languages

We all know that different animals have different ways of communicating with one another, however our understanding of the different languages in the non-human world is very limited to say the least. Wikipedia has quite a good article on animal communication for further reading, but I just want to talk about two animals in this post.   I've just stumbled upon this interesting article which is a few months old now about prairie dogs. According to research carried out by a professor in the North Arizona University, prairie dogs have a quite intricate language system - and not just some simple noises, but specific 'words' for specific items that they see. Thus not all danger is described in one word, but each forms of danger is given a name; a falcon, an owl, a human, a coyote, etc. According to the article they can even differentiate between a coyote and a domesticated dog! But it doesn't stop there, the professor decided to test if there were different calls for different humans so he dressed four men in exactly the same clothing except for their t-shirts where each one wore a different coloured shirt. And indeed, the prairie dogs gave a different call for each person! Apparently they describe what they see in their call. It makes me wonder whether it is possible that they actually could maybe invent new words for things not included in their vocabulary? Or is that a bit too far? I don't know!

This article actually reminded me of a very old story I read about honey bees. There was this girl (Barbara Shipman) whose dad was an agricultural researcher working with bees and he always had his daughter involved in his work. However, as fate would have it, the daughter decided to enter the field of mathematics and graduated as a mathematician from the University of Rochester. But that's where she made her greatest discovery in bees language!  It's very complicated to go through her methods over here, you really need to read it yourself as I'm not even 100% on it, but apparently bees can perceive not just magnetic fields (which we know alot of animals can see them and use them for directions) but also quantum fields!  Fields made by quarks - the tiniest of particles that make up our own atoms!  It's mind boggling to say the least and there has been disputes over her conclusions, but it's still a very interesting read non-the-less!