Have you ever walked by a prairie dog colony and a prairie dog began to chirp and cheep the moment it saw you. Have you ever wondered what the prairie dog was saying? Apparently the prairie dog is talking to his coterie friends in their own special language.
Dr. Con Slobodchikoff of Northern Arizona University has done extensive research on the vocalizations of the Gunnison’s prairie dog and has conducted basic research on the other four species. What he has discovered is the prairie dog has “the most complex natural language that has been decoded so far,” more sophisticated than communication systems of monkeys and dolphins.
Dr. Slobodchikoff has identified about 100 sounds, or prairie dog words. Many of these words identify predators, such as coyote, badger, red-tailed hawk, as well as colors and objects. In field experiments, Dr. Slobodchikoff has shown prairie dogs can describe the size and shape of a human and the color of his clothing: “tall human in blue.” Remarkably, prairie dogs can even coin new words for things they have never seen before. Take a look at this video produced by Sandy Nervig of Growing Ideas to learn more about prairie dog language:
Another form of prairie dog vocalization is social chatter. The significance of this type vocalization is not well understood. Scientists have not been able to decode its meaning because no observable prairie dog behavioral changes take place in correlation to the chatter. Therefore, it cannot be put into a context for decoding. A prairie dog can start a round of chattering; and, in turn, another prairie dog may respond to it with its chattering vocalization. But the significance of this social chatter remains a mystery. Growing Ideas video:
So next time you get the urge to “commune with nature,” go to a prairie dog colony. You just may get an earful and may be surprised by how much in common human beings have with these burrowing creatures.