It’s hard to learn a language, even if you’re surrounded by others that speak it fluently. So when it comes to understanding the language of animals it takes years of dedicated study, even with our closest relatives. Animal behaviour is a much more subtle language than the spoken word. As a relatively recently evolved species ourselves it’s important to understand that most animals emerged before humans, and verbal language is an extremely recent concept. While many species speak without words, they have entire languages that can be pieced together.
Jane Goodall spent over 55 years in the company of wild chimpanzees, transforming their reputation from primitive beasts into social and sophisticated apes. Her observations included trades of complex body language that ranked and organised chimp troops into effective hunting teams.
While our ears and noses are fairly unremarkable, many animals manipulate body parts like this to convey messages. Carnivores, ungulates and rodents are just three examples that rely on this kind of communication, and as time progresses researchers are adding more species to the list. A surprising number of species are able to understand each other in ways that would bypass us completely.