vegansaurus!

10/28/2010

Radiolab blows our minds again with “Wild Talk”  »

Animals: they are amazing. Did you know? Radiolab, the most interesting English-language radio show in production, has some new, specific examples of animal behavior that will amaze you, guaranteed—unless you are heartless and/or totally jaded and/or have already listened to this podcast.

This short, called “Wild Talk,” is about two different animals and how they communicate. As in, using their own “vocabularies” and “languages,” not that teaching gorillas sign language isn’t great as well, but a lesson about the way animals think and act with minimal human influence is so much easier to hear than any story that begins in a cage. Your Vegansaurus listened to this short three times already, so here’s a little preview because it’s so cool I can’t keep it to myself.

Klaus Zuberbühler went into the Taï Forest in West Africa to study Diana monkeys, and eventually figured out two of their “danger!” calls: one for “leopard,” and one for “eagle.” When the Diana monkeys hear “leopard,” they all run up the trees to hide; when they hear “eagle,” they run down the trees to hide.

Then he thought something like, If humans can understand more than one language, can monkeys?  So he played the Diana monkeys’ two danger calls for groups of Campbell’s monkeys, and what happened? The Campbell’s monkeys ran up the trees when he played “leopard,” and down the trees when he played “eagle.” It worked the same in reverse. Moreover, when he played the calls of both monkeys to yellow-casqued hornbills, they reacted as they would to the threats of leopard or eagles, too. Forest neighbors can understand each others’ languages!

You realize of course this makes the monkeys and birds better than us, all living in the Bay Area and speaking five words of Spanish/Cantonese/Mandarin/Filipino/Tagalog. Tsk.

The second animal that’ll shock you here is the prairie dog, whose “chee chee”-sounding chirps are actually complex, multilayered sounds that allow for fairly detailed descriptions of what they see and hear. Really! If you were close enough to a prairie dog village to get the attention of the residents, and you could understand prairie dog, you would hear them describing your height and the color of your clothing. They differentiate between coyotes and wolves in a similar manner. Has your head exploded yet? Prairie dogs don’t just have language, they have adjectives for color and size!

Of course there’s much more information about both studies on the podcast, which is somehow only 22 minutes long. Your Vegansaurus loves Radiolab and strongly suggests you subscribe and listen to all the archived episodes ASAP. First, however, check out this short about animal languages, it really is fascinating.

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