Prairie dogs are chatterboxes

January 24th, 2010 - 4:55 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Jan 24 (ANI): A new research has revealed that prairie dogs are some of nature’s most talkative creatures.

While studying the burrowing rodents, biologists found that the creatures have one of the most sophisticated languages in the animal kingdom - second only to humans.

The discovery has come as a surprise to many wildlife experts as it was assumed that mankind’s closest relatives, primates, or intelligent mammals such as dolphins were likely to be the most talkative species after humans.

However, Professor Con Slobodchikoff, a biologist at Northern Arizona University, has found that the prairie dogs’ squeaky bark contains surprising amounts of information that can describe colours, size, directions of travel and even speed.

He first found the animals’ ability to communicate by studying the alarm calls they make when predators enter their territories.

Prairie dogs are highly social and live in large colonies, or towns as they are known, that can span hundreds of acres of the grasslands of North America. They use loud panic calls to alert other members of the colony of a threat.

Slobodchikoff found that the prairie dogs used specific calls for different types of predator.

“There is quite a lot of variation between the alarm calls used by prairie dogs. The call for a coyote is different from that for a badger which is also different for the call for a hawk,” the Telegraph quoted him as saying.

“This makes sense because the prairie dogs have different evasion responses for each type of predator. Coyotes, for example, hunt by surprise so the prairie dogs run to the entrances of their burrows and stand up to keep watch for the threat.

“Badgers can dig down into the burrows, however, so the prairie dogs run to their burrows and hunker down to avoid being seen and attracting the threat to their burrow.

“When no predators were around and the calls were played back through loud speakers, the prairie dogs still responded to the relevant threat, which shows they understood the calls,” he added. (ANI)

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