Part 1: Warm-up fun
Pull up a word processor or Notepad.
Now check the clock on your monitor. Give yourself just three minutes
to list as
many animal sounds as you can (you know:
bark, meow, squeak…that kind of stuff).
What are you waiting
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!
Here are some basic rules about animal communication:
- The more an animal
needs other members of its species to survive, the more complicated its
communication will be.
- Just because animals
don't speak like humans do (in words), it doesn't mean they don't communicate.
- For many species,
much of their communication is non-verbal. For example, apes are very intelligent,
but pass along many messages to one another gesturing with their hands,
arms and heads.
- Most animals do make
at least some sounds, but the structures they use aren't necessarily the
same as humans have.
- Some animals - a good
example is the horse - make few voiced noises, but are extremely sensitive
to human voices.
- Creatures of one species
sometimes understand the "talk" of a different species. The chickadee is
an excellent example. If the chickadee makes an alarm call, other forest
creatures become silent. It is as though the forest animals are waiting
to see what the danger might be. However, scientists have observed that
when the chickadee makes another of its calls, the other animals do not
- Experts know that humans
learn language as young children. If a person was raised without anyone
speaking to him or her (and didn't hear a TV or radio), that person would
not know language. However, some animals that have been raised away from
their own species still seem to communicate by natural instinct. In
other words, some animals seem to be born with communication skills.
Remember from the Fantastic
Vocal Journey how humans produce voice? Let's compare that to the way
dogs, birds, and dolphins "talk."
Dogs produce many different sounds. Adult dogs can make low growling sounds,
and puppies usually produce high-pitched yips. Big dogs make low-pitched
sounds mostly because of simple physics. Big things usually make low sounds,
and little things make high-pitched noises. [Compare the music made by
a string bass to that of the little, tiny piccolo. This is the same idea.]
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.]
Listen to an audio sample
of dogs from Georgetown
University's website. Do you hear both high and low pitches? Would you
guess this recording was made with different sizes of dogs? [this website
will open in a new browser windw, close that window to return to this one.]
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
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 usualy make very few sounds!
Other than the human, a bird's song is the most beautiful and complicated vocalization
in nature. However, birds produce their songs quite unlike that of humans.
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
Until recently, however,
scientists didn't fully understand ALL sounds dolphins make. Part of the
difficulty is that - unlike birds and dogs - humans don't live in the same
environment as dolphins (the sea). The other difficulty, though, is that
the human ear can't hear all of the sounds a dolphin makes. Look at the chart
(right). From the bottom of the ear to the top of the yellow area shows sounds
the human ear can hear. Now, look at the sounds a dolphin makes (from the
bottom of the dolphin to the top of the blue area). The numbers are measured
in Hertz. Some of the dolphin noises have a higher pitch (between about 18,000
and 23,000 Hertz) than our ears can handle.
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.
Fun Fact: In a very interesting experiment, Dr. KS Norris created a communications
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!
Now that we've
learned how humans, dogs, birds and dolphins "talk", let's list some
of the reasons why animals don't speak as humans do:
- Animals' brains are
not as complex as those of humans.
- Some species do not
have vocal cords.
- Many species do not
have delicate control of the lips, teeth, jaw and tongue required to shape
- The vocal tracts (the
area between the sound-producing organ and the mouth) of animals may differ
greatly in shape and size as compared to humans, so it is not surprising
that the vocalizations sound different.
Part 3: Great Stuff on the Web
to see (and hear)!
[These links will open in a new browser
window, please close that window when done to return to this window.]
Part 4: If
you want to know more
Here are some good
books to build on what you've just learned:
Part 5: Keep your knowledge Alive!
- Talking with
the Animals by Daniel Cohen (1971). Published by Dodd, Mead & Company
- Animal Languages by
Fernard Mery (1971). Published by Saxon House
- Animal Talk by
Eugene Morton and Jake Page (1992). Published by Random House
- Eloquent Animals by
Flora Davis (1978). Published by Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc.
You have covered a lot of information about how animals make sounds. Did you
forget anything? Take a true
or false quiz to test your 'animal smarts'
to Information for Young Explorers