Animal Communications Systems (ANICOMS)

Evita Apalaki

Communication is the act that happens among a sender and a receiver, during which the latter is supposed to change behavior, or the transmitted information will affect the adaptation of one or both of those participants. Humans have developed the ultimate form of communication, language. Phrases said in a particular order structure a code that can be understood by a group of people and transmit information that will have the same meaning for the sender and the receiver. The inability of animals to speak brings up a major question, whether they can communicate. The field of bio-communication, a term adopted by the ethologist Gunter Tembrock, has raised the curiosity of scientists and animal lovers for ages. Individuals observe the behavioral patterns of interactions in the animal kingdom in order to distinguish any possible means that animals have to transmit information to other members of the same or other species. However, it is not only the methods of animal communication that researchers need to explore, but also the situations in which information needs to be transmitted. 

Impressive findings indicate that there is a great network of animal communication systems (ANICOMS), supporting the theory that there are multiple ways of interaction among organisms, apart from linguistics and metalinguistics. The study of ANICOMS has long been known as Zoosemiotics and is a large contemporary field in the broader sector of ethology, sociobiology, linguistics and communications. Long-term observations have highlighted 4-5 major ways of inter- and intra- species communication:

Olfactory: This way of communication is driven by chemical compounds,  pheromones, that are released from the body of an animal sender. The information may take longer to be identified by a receiver since such hormones need time to be synthesized and diffused in the air or water, until finally received by a target.  

Auditory: It is a set of messages transmitted through sounds that are produced by the vocal cords of the animal. The style of sound usually differs depending on the circumstances, and can take the form of a scream, cry, song, or rhythmical signal. 

Tactile: This style of communication usually requires the physical touch of at least two animal bodies. Touching movements, aggressive hits and other touching interactions, can incorporate information that will transmit a specific message each time. 

Visual: The eyes are important organs of a body that can receive and decode messages. Visual messages usually take the form of gestures, facial expressions, body positions and colorations. 

The methodical scientific observation of animals’ behavior reveals major ways that animals have to send and receive information. This kind of communication is usually driven by instincts or mimicking behaviors developed during the early stages of life. Animal interactions are usually important for the security of vital needs. Finding a mate, hunting food, raising pups, building a shelter, or fighting against predators are the most common cases during which animals need to communicate. Especially among social species, communication skills are more developed due to the fact that members of animal communities need to maintain the cohesion of the herd, the hierarchy of the team and the coordination of big movements in the research of new shelters. Furthermore, animals depose much of their energy in the finding of their mate. Males especially compete for a female partner by showing their strength while fighting with other males, proving good performance skills by producing special sounds or impressing with their exceptional appearance of bright colors and big body size. In the animal kingdom it is usually the males that need to attract the females. This fact is related to the observation that the males of almost all species are more impressive in appearance compared to the females. Good phenotypical characteristics and efficient performance transmit the message of a good gene quality synthesis and health. On the other hand, females have less impressive appearance while their availability for mating is transmitted through hormones. 

During the observation of behaviors in nature, several ways of communication have been decoded by the experts and are often of interest to the public. For example, the scout bee dances in the hive when nectar is found in order to direct the other bees to the location of the source. Furthermore, in a tactile way of communication, giraffes press their necks together when they are attracted to each other. Horses rub their noses as a sign of affection, and chimpanzees touch hands to greet each other. As strange as it may seem, mother birds that carry food for their children always recognize their own nests by the special sound-cry that small birds produce. In the same auditory communication system, the hierarchy in a monkey community is maintained by the differences in sounds produced by its members. Dominants usually produce reconciliatory signals that are indicative of low aggression, while lower-ranking members produce submissive displays towards higher-ranking individuals. Additionally, dogs are very good at sniffing pheromones transmitted in the air to recognize fear, aggression or kindness of humans or other animals around them. It is very impressive how messages can be transmitted as information enclosed in movements, sounds, colors or smells and change the behavior of a receiver. 

Extensive research on the ANICOMS revealed that animals also have the need to express their feelings and communicate with subjects of the same or other species for vital needs and socialization reasons. It is not a structured oral language, but inner instincts and mimicking behaviors that enable animals to perceive auditory, visual, olfactory and tactile signals. Animal communication is a network of messages transmitted towards a receiver in ways which can be decoded by humans after a detailed observation. 

Sources: Fact Monster, Khan Academy, Nature Education, Oxford Handbooks