Part 1: Warm-up fun
What are you waiting for? Go!
When you are done, check your answers with our list.
How many animal vocalizations could you come up with? [Don't feel badly if you didn't come up with as many as we did. We used more than three minutes to create that list!]
Now that you are thinking about different sounds animals make, get ready to learn more.
Part 2: C'mon, there's exploring to do!
Dogs have larynxes (that look similar to humans), lungs that breathe in and exhale air, and a vocal tract (throat, mouth, nose). You know from studying the human voice that these things are needed for vocalization. [Think about how differently the vocal tract is shaped in a dog as compared to a human, though. Except for a few snub-nosed canines like bulldogs or pugs, most dogs have a long snout and a mouth that can open widely.]
Think about the yips and barks and growls of various dogs. You hear both high and low pitches, right? Would you guess these sounds are made within different sizes of dogs?
Even though dogs have similar vocal structures as compared to humans, dogs do not speak as we do. People have tried to teach their dogs to speak with hours and hours of repeating words and rewarding the dogs when they made human-like sounds. But dogs are not natural speakers, and one of the best in history (a Doberman) could produce only 7 somewhat-understandable words.
So, why don't dogs talk? There may be several reasons, but the most important is that dogs lack the brainpower to speak. Talking is complicated! The brain must coordinate nerves, muscles, airflow, plus all the brain drain of deciding what to say. A dog's brain probably just isn't developed well enough to mastermind the job of speaking.
Another consideration is that dogs don't really need to speak. Look how well dogs communicate with each other and humans by sniffing, using their expressive faces, or acting out their needs (for example, running to the door to be let outside).
Final Fun Fact: There is general agreement among scientists that domesticated dogs (yes, those that whimper, growl, bark, yip, bark and woof) descended from wolves. Yet, wolves usually make very few sounds!
Birds do not have a larynx, but make songs with an organ called the syrinx. The syrinx is located at the bottom of the trachea (the tube just above the lungs). It is made up of chambers whose "walls" (membranes) vibrate when air passes them. Birds use special muscles to change the shapes of the membranes, which changes the sounds of their songs.
It is interesting to note that birds with some of the most beautiful songs - such as mockingbirds - have more muscles to control the membranes of the syrinx. Some birds can vibrate the left and right sides of the syrinx independently, so their songs are harmonious duets produced by a single bird!
But do birds talk? Many birds, such as the parrots and myna birds, can be taught to mimic human words extremely well. If you stood - with eyes closed - in a room with another human being and a parrot, you might find it hard to tell which "hello" belonged to the person and which to the parrot!
It is important to understand, though, that these mimicking birds do NOT understand what they are saying. They merely repeat sounds that have been taught to them. You could say that talking to a parrot is pretty much like talking to a tape player.
Final Fun Fact: Some birds, such as the mockingbird, cannot mimic the human voice, but imitate other birds very well. The starling can not only imitate other birds, but also the meow of a cat!
Compared to dogs or birds, dolphins are extremely intelligent creatures. Their brains are large and complex, so that one might suspect dolphins would be good communicators and might be able to learn language. Sailors and others who spend much time on the sea have long reported that dolphins squeak, groan and hiss.
Dolphins make their high-pitched sounds to keep them moving safely. As they swim, they make these noises from air sacs in their heads. If these sounds bounce off anything - say a large rock - the dolphins know to swim around it. Dolphins use other sounds for other reasons. For example, they seem to use a clicking sound to help keep the group together. But do dolphins make voiced sounds like a human, dog or bird? In some ways, the process is similar. Dolphins release inhaled air, and using their excellent muscle control, open and shut the blowhole (located at the top of the head) to make various sounds. Unlike humans and dogs, however, dolphins do not have vocal cords.
Final Fun Fact: In a very interesting experiment, Dr. KS Norris created a communications link of underwater microphones and receivers between dolphins near Hawaii with those near Florida. He found that dolphins speak the same "language" whether they were born in the Pacific Ocean or the Atlantic Ocean!
Part 3: Great Stuff on the Web to see (and hear)!
Part 4: If you want to know more
Here are some good books to build on what you've just learned: