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Prairie Dog Language?
Post by Swamprat on May 15th, 2017, 5:21pm

A lengthy article, but I found it fascinating.

Can Prairie Dogs Talk?

An Arizona biologist believes that their sounds should be considered language — and that someday we’ll understand what they have to say.

By Ferris Jabr
May 12, 2017

Con Slobodchikoff and I approached the mountain meadow slowly, obliquely, softening our footfalls and conversing in whispers. It didn’t make much difference. Once we were within 50 feet of the clearing’s edge, the alarm sounded: short, shrill notes in rapid sequence, like rounds of sonic bullets.

We had just trespassed on a prairie-dog colony. A North American analogue to Africa’s meerkat, the prairie dog is trepidation incarnate. It lives in subterranean societies of neighboring burrows, surfacing to forage during the day and rarely venturing more than a few hundred feet from the center of town. The moment it detects a hawk, coyote, human or any other threat, it cries out to alert the cohort and takes appropriate evasive action. A prairie dog’s voice has about as much acoustic appeal as a chew toy. French explorers called the rodents petits chiens because they thought they sounded like incessantly yippy versions of their pets back home.

On this searing summer morning, Slobodchikoff had taken us to a tract of well-trodden wilderness on the grounds of the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. Distressed squeaks flew from the grass, but the vegetation itself remained still; most of the prairie dogs had retreated underground. We continued along a dirt path bisecting the meadow, startling a prairie dog that was peering out of a burrow to our immediate right. It chirped at us a few times, then stared silently.

“Hello,” Slobodchikoff said, stooping a bit. A stout bald man with a scraggly white beard and wine-dark lips, Slobodchikoff speaks with a gentler and more lilting voice than you might expect. “Hi, guy. What do you think? Are we worth calling about? Hmm?”

Slobodchikoff, an emeritus professor of biology at Northern Arizona University, has been analyzing the sounds of prairie dogs for more than 30 years. Not long after he started, he learned that prairie dogs had distinct alarm calls for different predators. Around the same time, separate researchers found that a few other species had similar vocabularies of danger. What Slobodchikoff claimed to discover in the following decades, however, was extraordinary: Beyond identifying the type of predator, prairie-dog calls also specified its size, shape, color and speed; the animals could even combine the structural elements of their calls in novel ways to describe something they had never seen before. No scientist had ever put forward such a thorough guide to the native tongue of a wild species or discovered one so intricate. Prairie-dog communication is so complex, Slobodchikoff says — so expressive and rich in information — that it constitutes nothing less than language.

Read, and hear, more: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/12/magazine/can-prairie-dogs-talk.html?_r=0

Re: Prairie Dog Language?
Post by purr on May 16th, 2017, 3:34pm

Thanks for the article link, Swamprat, thought I'd go ahead and read all of it. Amaziing stuff.

I'd say they have evolved and continue to evolve their very own prairy dog language. Our language is far more complex though, like a thousand times more, or even INFINITELY more so.

Still, reading how intricately these animals seem to communicate, by extension perceive their surroundings, I'm incredibly impressed. Same applies to cetaceans and apes and elephants, these animals turn out smarter, more aware, more social than we ever imagined.

If we stand idly by as species (including smart ones like prairy dogs) are threatened/go extinct, aren't we the ones falling short on intelligence and awareness?


Re: Prairie Dog Language?
Post by WingsofCrystal on May 16th, 2017, 6:13pm

Thanks for this article Swamprat.

I grew up with prairie dogs, I would definitely believe they have language. They are seriously smart little critters.