Although they may not communicate with words in the same way that humans do, many animals have developed different ways of 'speaking' to each other. 


Communicating Using Visual Signals

Visual signals may take the form of gestures and display, facial grimaces, body posture or mimicry. The extravagant display of the peacock or lyre bird can make the strutting of a wood pigeon seem ineffective and yet each species has its own way of using visual communication to the best advantage.

The male rabbit will use the white underside of its tail to attract the attention of a female, while the female may use the white of her tail as a visual signal for her young to follow when she is leading them to the safety of the burrow.

Dogs and wolves make use of body language, as do cats, monkeys and many other animals. The attitude of the tail when two wolves meet will indicate which of the two is the superior. The tail held between the legs is a submissive gesture while the tail raised confidently aloft donates dominance. Horses will hold their ears or tail in certain positions to signal pleasure or alarm. Dogs wag their tails as a sign of pleasure while the waving tail of a cat signals irritation or anger.  Raised hackles in the dog family help to make the individual appear bigger when facing a possible adversary.

Apes and monkeys make considerable use of facial grimaces in order to express their feelings. The frown of a rhesus monkey is a clear sign of unease, whereas the raised eyebrow and fluttering eyelid denotes friendship or pleasure.

At another level animals may communicate a simple message through the art of mimicry. The roundels on the wings of the peacock butterfly look like large and scary eyes to a potential predator. The harmless hoverfly resembles the wasp. Many caterpillars through their colouration take on the appearance of poisonous or evil-tasting creatures in order to deter their enemies.

With a little luck and a great deal of patience it is possible to observe and recognise visual communication among animals such as birds or insects in the garden.  Observing the visual signals given by domestic animals like dogs or cats in the home will over time give you a good understanding of their feelings and mood.

Read More: Communicating Through Touch

Related Resources