The Linguistic Genius of Prairie Dogs
Con Slobodchikoff, PhD, has been studying prairie dogs for over 30 years. His studies have focused primarily on Gunnison’s prairie dogs, whose natural habitat is just outside the doors of Northern Arizona University, where Slobodchikoff is a professor emeritus. After first observing how a colony of prairie dogs reacted to the presence of predators, he discovered that they didn’t just give the same alarm call each time – it sounded different depending on what type of predator the prairie dogs saw. But that wasn’t the full extent of the calls’ complexity. Slobodchikoff also noticed that even though the calls signaling a certain type of predator would follow a distinct pattern, they contained small nuances that varied with each individual predator of that type. For instance, the prairie dogs had a similar call for all coyotes, but there were subtle differences for each different coyote. Based on this observation, Slobodchikoff had a sudden insight: “What if they’re describing the physical features of each predator?” Links:
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