Prairie dogs’ language decoded by scientists
2013-06-24 0:00

CBC News

Human-animal translation devices may be available within 10 years, researcher says


Did that prairie dog just call you fat? Quite possibly. On The Current Friday, biologist Con Slobodchikoff described how he learned to understand what prairie dogs are saying to one another and discovered how eloquent they can be.

Slobodchikoff, a professor emeritus at North Arizona University, told Erica Johnson, guest host of The Current, that he started studying prairie dog language 30 years ago after scientists reported that other ground squirrels had different alarm calls to warn each other of flying predators such as hawks and eagles, versus predators on the ground, such as coyotes or badgers.

Prairie dogs, he said, were ideal animals to study because they are social animals that live in small co-operative groups within a larger colony, or "town" and they never leave their colony or territory, where they have built an elaborate underground complex of tunnels and burrows.

In order to figure out what the prairie dogs were saying, Slobodchikoff and his colleagues trapped them and painted them with fur dye to identify each one. Then they recorded the animals’ calls in the presence of different predators.

They found that the animals make distinctive calls that can distinguish between a wide variety of animals, including coyotes, domestic dogs and humans. The patterns are so distinct, Slobodchikoff said, that human visitors that he brings to a prairie dog colony can typically learn them within two hours.

But then Slobodchikoff noticed that the animals made slightly different calls when different individuals of the same species went by.

"With a sudden intuition, I thought, ’What if they’re describing the physical features of each predator?’" he recalled.

He and his team conducted experiments where they paraded dogs of different colours and sizes and various humans wearing different clothes past the colony. They recorded the prairie dogs’ calls, analyzed them with a computer, and were astonished by the results.

Clothing colour, size described

"They’re able to describe the colour of clothes the humans are wearing, they’re able to describe the size and shape of humans, even, amazingly, whether a human once appeared with a gun," Slobodchikoff said.

The animals can even describe abstract shapes such as circles and triangles.

Also remarkable was the amount of information crammed into a single chirp lasting a 10th of a second.

"In one 10th of a second, they say ’Tall thin human wearing blue shirt walking slowly across the colony.’"

Besides being a researcher, Slobodchikoff is an author of the book Chasing Doctor Doolittle: Learning the Language of Animals, in which he profiles many other animals with complex language, including crows and ravens, chickens and vervet monkeys. He believes complex speech is probably common within the animal kingdom.

"It’s just that we have not looked," he said. He blames the fact that humans have long assumed animals are incapable of such intelligence.

Computer translation

Slobodchikoff said he has been working with a computer scientist to develop a device that uses voice pattern recognition techniques and artificial intelligence to translate between human and animal speech.

"We could potentially have something maybe the size of a cellphone in five to 10 years where a dog would say, ’Woof’ and the device would say. ’I want to eat chicken tonight" or a cat could say, ’Meow,’ and the device would say, ’My litterbox is filthy, please clean it.’"

[...]

Read the full article at: cbc.ca







Wild Kingdom- Prairie Dog Language w/ Con Slobodchikoff (2013)





Related Articles
Dolphins Call Each Other By Name
Scientists say dolphins should be treated as ’non-human persons’
Do Animals Tell Stories?
Animals Are Moral Creatures, Scientist Argues
Scientists Finally Conclude Nonhuman Animals Are Conscious Beings
The Ethics of Boosting Animals from Sentience to Self-Aware Consciousness
Can Crows Read?
6 Terrifying Ways Crows Are Way Smarter Than You Think
Crowboarding: Russian roof-surfin’ bird caught on tape


Latest News from our Front Page

60 Years of Research Links Gluten Grains to Schizophrenia
2015-03-31 1:05
Does the consumption of gluten-containing grains contribute to psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia? Believe it or not, this question has been asked for well over 60 years by researchers who stumbled upon evidence that the removal of gluten from the diet results in improved symptoms, or conversely, that gluten grain consumption leads to higher prevalence of both neurological and psychiatric problems. Reports ...
A Sour Deception: Citric Acid Comes From GMO Black Mold, Not Fruit
2015-03-30 23:32
Just what is your food made of, anyway? Try industrial synthesis, genetically modified mold secretions, hydrochloric acid, mercury-contaminated caustic soda, ferrocyanide… and, of course, lots of GMO corn. If common ingredients like “citric acid” and “ascorbic acid (Vitamin C)” sound normal and familiar enough that you practically conjure up an image of the flourishing orchard they were grown in – then ...
Thousands of migrants dumped on Britain as French wriggle out of border promise
2015-03-30 19:56
Thousands of migrants could be dumped on Britain’s doorstep if France tears up a historic border agreement, it was claimed last night. Officials have vowed to do “everything in their power” to wriggle out of a treaty moving the UK border to Calais. The besieged town’s mayor Natacha Bouchart is prepared to spark a major diplomatic row by opening the frontier ...
Richard III laid to rest at Leicester Cathedral
2015-03-30 18:36
King Richard III was today laid to rest at Leicester Cathedral - more than 500 years after his death in battle. The monarch, who reigned from 1483 to 1485, was the last of the Plantagenet dynasty. Actor Benedict Cumberbatch read a poem by Carol Ann Duffy during the service. Also in attendance was Robert Lindsay, who played Richard III in a version ...
Sweden - A new paradise for Romani beggars
2015-03-30 17:33
Thanks to the European Union and freedom of movement that follows with membership Sweden has been flooded with gypsies from Eastern Europe. Most member states have cracked down hard on the phenomenon of organized begging with legislation and forceful evictions so the Romani (colloquially known as Gypsies) who are engaged in this venture have moved their business to the country where ...
More News »