Human language is what I do, but I’ll give it a go …
Yes, some animals do communicate through chemicals! But there are also animals that (we think) communicate using different sounds to mean different things. For example, I think there’s a type of monkey in the savannah (East Africa – Kenya and Tanzania, for example) that has different cries for ‘threat from above’ (like a bird of prey coming), ‘threat from below’ (like a jaguar coming – and not a car either), ‘hello’ (to friends), and so on.
Then of course there are whales. Their songs are known to carry for hundreds of miles under the ocean because they’re such low, loud notes, and the songs are also known to change very gradually from year to year, almost like a fashion. But for all that, we still don’t know why whales actually sing, really. It could be communication, or even just pleasure!
Finally, you might have heard of Koko the gorilla – she lives in San Francisco Zoo, and is in her thirties. Her keeper thinks she understands and can use more than 200 signs for different things. Similar things have also been said about the communicative abilities of African grey parrots, which can learn to imitate a very large number of words. But there’s a lot of controversy about these animals: people really don’t know whether they are actually communicating (which would mean making up their own sentences and sequences of signs), or simply mimicking what they have heard and seen.
Have you seen animals trying to communicate? How effective do you think it is?
A very cool answer from Damien! I can’t really add anything. Most scientists agree that animals haven’t developed language as complex as ours (as far as we know, we learn more all the time). Nevertheless my favourite type of non-human communication I remember reading about was the information in the trails that snails leave (there haven’t been many studies on this) – that is a very cool although rather icky way of communicating!