Trivia

Hard

Which Of These North American Mammals Has A Sophisticated Language System?

Elk
Raccoons
Prairie Dogs
Coyotes
Two prairie dogs at the opening of their burrow.
Curtis J. Carley/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Wikimedia

Answer: Prairie Dogs

When you think of sophisticated language in non-humans, you probably think about dolphins, which are known to use names (signature whistles) for each other and recognize those names over time and distance, or perhaps different primate groups, which communicate with various advanced calls. What you probably don’t think of is prairie dogs, the once wildly abundant rodent that is found all across the grasslands of North America.

Recent research, however, indicates that prairie dog calls, which were long believed to just be simple barks and chirps intended to sound a general alarm, are actually a language system that can communicate a high degree of detail about what is going on in the prairie dog community. How high of a degree of detail? Researchers studying prairie dogs have observed them using specific calls for coyotes and wild dogs, unarmed men and armed men, and can even indicate if a predator is on the ground or in the air. Further, the calls aren’t simply “Hawk! Hawk! Hawk!” or the like, but are actually strung together in a rudimentary syntax that is more akin to “Hawk! Hawk! From the north! From the north!”. The prairie dogs can communicate not just what the threat is, but what direction it is coming from and at what speed.

Interestingly enough, the prairie dogs’ very vocal nature doesn’t increase the risk of any individual prairie dog getting nabbed. The way prairie dogs project their voices has an almost ventriloquist-like effect, and when multiple prairie dogs are repeating the call, it becomes nearly impossible to use your ear to narrow down the location of the animals.

Trivia

Easy

Which City’s Full Name Is The Longest On Earth?

Trivia

Hard

The Special Effects In Which Of These 1990s Films Inspired A Whole New Era Of Film Making?

Trivia

Easy

Abundant Rose Bushes in Grape Vineyards Serve What Purpose?

Trivia

Hard

Which Of These Mammals Has Fingerprints Virtually Indistinguishable From A Human’s?

Trivia

Hard

The Water Jets Under The Space Shuttle Launch Pad Aren’t For Cooling, But?

Trivia

Hard

Which Cartoon Character Was Recolored At The Urging Of Cartoon Censors?

Trivia

Hard

Three Entirely Non-Canonical Legend Of Zelda Games Were Created For Which Video Game System?

Trivia

Hard

The Most Geographically Isolated Group Of Islands On Earth Is?

Trivia

Hard

The First Consumer Sewing Machine To Feature Computerized Design Inputs Was Powered By A?

Trivia

Hard

What Iconic 1980s Toy Was Introduced At None Other Than The Iconic Studio 54 Nightclub?