If you look or listen carefully, you will be overwhelmed by the constant and various ways animals communicate with each other. They regularly convey messages like “there is danger nearby”, “I’m looking for a mate” or “there is food over there”. Although animals can’t speak like humans, they have their own unique methods of passing messages to each other. There are many ways animals communicate, and you can see many of them in the Georgian Bay Biosphere. Some of these strategies include sounds, vibration, smell, light, and body language. Many species like birds and bees use more than one of these techniques.
Sound is the most common form of communication you will observe. Birds use chirps and songs to convey a variety of messages. Songs are used to defend territory and attract mates. Chirps are often for warning, to organise flocks, or to keep in contact with each other when searching for food. At night, sounds we can’t even hear are made from another flying creature. Bats make high pitched chirps which bounce off objects around them and come back to their ears. They use these sounds to determine their surroundings. When in groups, bats constantly make noises to determine their location within a group.
It is also common to see animals communicating using body language. Birds use lots of body language to communicate, despite being so vocal with sound too. Many male birds perform mating dances to try to impress females. Ravens offer each other gifts of moss or twigs and clap their beaks to show bonding or impress females. In colonies, worker honeybees will wiggle their butts and do little dances to point other worker bees in the direction of flowers. These little bee dances can be as specific as distance from the hive.
While you may not always be able to sense it, animals big and small use smells to communicate with each other. Some of these smells are actually made from special chemicals called pheromones. Bees and ants use pheromones to alert others about danger or food sources. Bees even have pheromones to coordinate a swarm when danger is nearby. Otters use the smell of poop to communicate with each other. They leave small pieces of waste called sprait to indicate their territory or communicate messages about the environment to other otters nearby.
One unique bug you’ll see at night in the Biosphere is the firefly. Fireflies are bioluminescent which means they can create light using a chemical reaction in their bodies. Fireflies mostly use this light to attract mates, but they also use it to defend territory or scare predators away.
One form of communication you will not be able to sense is vibrations. Before they even hatch, some animals in eggs use vibrations to communicate with each other. Bird eggs in a nest vibrate to communicate danger to other eggs. Using these vibrations, they can adapt to recognize specific threats. Turtle eggs in a nest under the ground use vibrations to communicate with each other as well. They use vibrations to coordinate so they all hatch at the same time.
Try communicating in a new language!
American Sign Language (ASL) is a method of communicating using hand signals. Try to learn the alphabet, or spell out your name to a family member in ASL.