If you do a dive deep on how, exactly, some creatures talk to each other, you’ll find secret languages that make the disparate languages of humanity—of which there are 6,900, according to the Linguistic Society of America—seem rudimentary by comparison. Let’s see 25 amazing ways animals communicate that you never knew about:
1. Chimpanzee Footsie
You could spend a lifetime analyzing chimps’ gestures. There are so many, in fact, that you can review an entire Great Ape Dictionary. Chimps have striking similarities with humans, and one of the other ways that researchers have found they signal to one another is through extending their feet to alert another (usually young) chimp to climb on them to travel.
2. Electric Fish Discharge Electricity
You’re probably familiar with electrically charged sea creatures such as the electric eel, but there is a particular species of electric fish that is able to use its voltage as a means of communicating. Known as “weakly electric fish,” these creatures, which, as their name implies, produce a mild electric discharge, use it to “chirp” out information, such as a male stating it’s attracted a female. When two of these fish meet, they are known to tweak their wavelengths in order to allow each other to produce similar levels of voltage.
3. Tap-Dancing Blue-Capped Cordon Bleu
As if its name isn’t cool enough, the blue-capped cordon bleu also has some ᴋɪʟʟer dance moves, using a kind of winged tap dance to attract a mate. Both male and female birds of this species court by holding a piece of nesting material in their beak, and then bob up and down while they sing, and make super-fast dance steps with their feet. Researchers believe the dance is meant to not only catch the attention of a mate, but to demonstrate health and fitness.
4. Caribbean Reef Squid Changes Color
Using specialized cells containing pigments and light-reflecting molecules known as chromataphores, the Caribbean reef squid can change the color of their skin to convey a variety of messages: to court a potential mate, to ᴡᴀʀɴ others of a predator or a number of other messages—even conveying one message to a squid on their left side and a different one to a squid on their right.
5. Mantis Shrimp Flash Lights
This creature has some of the most impressively complex eyesight in the animal kingdom, with 16 color receptors (compared to our measly three), which come in very handy when trying to communicate with one another. They use their own bodies to communicate using polarized light that other animals cannot spot. Researchers have found that they bounce light off bleu spots on their appendages called maxillipeds, scattering and arranging light across the surface in ways that can covey information to other mantis shrimp—rather than merely reflecting it.
6. African Demon Mole Rats Head-Bang
“African Demon Mole Rat” sounds like a pretty good name for a metal band. As it turns out, these critters communicate through a kind of head-banging. Spending their lives underground, they can communicate with one another by thumping their heads against the tops of their tunnels, in that way sending vibrations through the earth that travel much farther attempting to make a loud noise would be able to. The pace and intensity of the thumps indicate different meanings. Rock on.
7. White Rhinos Speak via ᴅᴜɴɢ
White rhinos, who have ᴛᴇʀʀɪʙʟᴇ eyesight, use communal ᴅᴜɴɢ heaps (called “middens”) as a something of a community bulletin board where they can leave messages—that one rhino is sɪᴄᴋ or another is ready to mate, if a dominant male has recently wandered through—to the rest of the group.
8. Jackdaws Glare
Just as humans can stare people down with their eyes in order to express their anger or frustration, so too can jackdaws, a bird that’s part of the same family as crows, ravens, and jays. Researchers have found that one of these birds will use his conspicuous eyes to glare at a would-be competitor, deterring it from trying to take over his nest.
9. Geckos “Seamless” Their Food
Day geckos, native to Madagascar, pioneered the idea of instant-order takeout long before Seamless (or even humans) came along. But rather than an app on their phones, they simply nod their heads at treehoppers—insects that digest sap an ᴇxᴄʀᴇᴛe it in a sugary liquid known as honeydew. When the gecko communicates to the treehoppers that it would like some of that honeydew, the insects oblige, ᴇxᴄʀᴇᴛing it right into the amphibian’s mouth.
10. Chimpanzees Scratch Each Other
Chimps love to groom and to be groomed. But just like your spouse or partner loves a backrub…but even more if you focus on that one spot right there, chimps can be particular about where they want to get scratched, using “referential gesturing” to draw the attention of another chimp to the specific area they’d like to have groomed.
11. Dholes Whistle
Dholes, otherwise known as Asiatic wild dogs, are also sometimes called “whistling dogs”—and with good reason. These fox-like animals alert each other about the location of prey through whistle sounds. This allows them to make coordinated ᴀᴛᴛᴀᴄᴋs on other animals much larger than them, communicating in packs to take down prey that’s more than 10 times their own body weight.
12. Coral Groupers Team Up For Hunts
When these predatory fish are outsmarted by prey that dives deep into the cracks of the coral reefs, it get some help from other predatory species: usually either the napoleon wrasse or moray eel. The grouper will point with its nose to the location of the fish, shaking its body, and the wrasse will smash against the coral to open it up or the eel will creep into the cracks itself. Thanks to this team work, at least one of the predators, if not both, usually end up with dinner.