Posted on December 01, 2011 at 09:59 am by Ken Shapiro -- Author's Site
Tell the truth, now. When you read the title, Inter-species Communication didn’t you immediately conjure up an image of a human and a nonhuman animal, most likely a dog or cat? That’s because in this culture we, even us animal protectionists, are unwittingly human-centered.
But check out this you-tube snippet featuring a dolphin and a cat ("Cat and dolphin playing together").
Yes, a great deal of communication goes on between nonhuman animals of different species. Much of it is as yet unstudied, again, because even when we turn our attention to other animals it is primarily in terms of their relationships to us. As a person who has spent a lot of time in the past 20 years helping to develop the field of human-animal studies, I plead guilty.
Nonhuman animal interspecies communication, again our immediate associations notwithstanding, is not limited to nature-tooth-in-claw -- predator-prey relationships -- or even the various forms of parasitic and symbiotic relationships. Consider the waterhole on the Serengeti or, more at hand, the millions of homes with companion animals of different species.
Casual observation of the birdfeeder in my backyard reveals a complex and subtle set of interactions. Some birds make the neighborhood circuit together – the chickadees, nuthatches, titmice and the occasional downy woodpecker. Birds respond to the warning calls of individuals of a different species. Individuals apparently know the sound of the flights of birds of particular species, as they differentially, even blind-sided, give way to a spot on the feeder depending on who is approaching. The chickadee flies away at the approach of the red-bellied woodpecker, moves to a less favorable spot for the cardinal, and jousts with the titmouse for the preferred spot. Through all of this, the squirrels share the space around the feeder with the ground-feeding birds and with my dog in complex ways. Tosca play-charges when she first runs from the house and the squirrels take the feint but quickly return to feeding and their own playful cavorting.
Other animals live in interspecies communities that we are just beginning to appreciate. Understanding those complexly arranged and ever-changing societies has implications for our treatment of animals in various settings, whether the home, the zoo, or the wild.
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