12/11/2012 09:35 am ET Updated Feb 10, 2013

7 Bizarre Animal Languages (PHOTOS)

Although some people prefer to think that language is solely the province of people, we are finding that more and more animal species have language in their own right. My book Chasing Doctor Dolittle shows that many animals, mostly the ones who are social and interact all the time with others, have languages that can be fairly sophisticated. From bats and mice that sing songs to ants and honeybees that tell each other about the location of food, animals are sharing information with each other, and can sometimes use that information to persuade, manipulate, or even deceive other animals. This is not to say that a bat will produce a high-pitched rendition of Shakespeare's sonnets. But maybe the bat is singing its own version of sonnets in bat language. We now have to adjust our view of animals to include the possibility that they can use language to think about the world around them, and that they are sentient beings who are conscious of themselves and of others. Some years ago, scientists pictured a vast gulf between us and animals: we had language, they didn't. Now we know that the gulf doesn't exist. Instead, it is more of a continuum, with each species having a language that reflects its own ecological needs.

In the seven examples of animal languages that I present, at first the languages might seem bizarre or strange to us. But upon reflection, we can see some parallels between these animals and us, either in terms of what we do, as with the dances of the albatrosses, or in terms of how our technology has converged on solving similar problems, such as with the elephants communicating over long distances with low frequency sound.

Bizarre Animal Communication