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  • Writer's pictureSimon Kaack

Understanding Animal Noises: What They Tell Us

Even the smallest beings raise our attention with fascinating sounds.

Observant social media users know that there is a day for almost everything, even International Nothing Day (in case you wonder when: 16 January). However, there are also days that have importance for our everyday lives. One such day took place last week, the International Day of Noise Awareness. Originally intended with a focus on soundscapes and their effects on human health, I immediately thought of the sounds you rarely hear in big cities: those of animals.

Animals communicate in many ways, but one of the most fascinating methods is through the sounds they make. These sounds, often referred to as animal noises, are not just random; they carry specific meanings and serve various purposes. From the intricate songs of insects to the deep roars of lions, animal noises are a vital part of how creatures interact with each other and their environment.

Underwater worlds are full of noise and sound waves, a true communication paradise.

Birdsongs are perhaps one of the most delightful sounds in the natural world. But beyond their beauty, these songs also play a critical role in the lives of birds. They are used to attract mates, with males often displaying their vitality and health through complex and vigorous songs. Birds also use calls to communicate danger or to mark their territory, sending clear messages to rivals to stay away.

Similarly, the Bornean gibbon's call is a familiar sound in Southeast Asian rainforests. These primates are known for their loud, elaborate songs, which serve various purposes, including mate attraction, territorial defense, and strengthening family bonds. The duets sung by mated pairs are particularly captivating, symbolizing their strong monogamous relationships and playing a crucial role in maintaining pair bonds.

The Asian elephant, a majestic creature roaming the forests and grasslands, communicates through a range of sounds, from trumpets to low-frequency rumbles. These rumbles, often too low for human ears to detect, can travel long distances, facilitating communication across dense forests. Elephants use these sounds to coordinate movements, signal distress, and maintain social bonds within their herds.

Even when animals are hiding, their sounds often give us an indication of where they are.

The distinctive call of the Tokay gecko, "tokay-tokay," is a common nighttime sound in Southeast Asian homes and forests. This vocalization is flexible but primarily a territorial call, with males asserting their dominance and deterring rivals. The intensity and frequency of the call also play a role in attracting females, showcasing the gecko's vitality and suitability as a mate.

The underwater world is no stranger to acoustic communication either. The Irrawaddy dolphins, communicate through a complex language of clicks, whistles, and pulses. These sounds are essential for navigation, hunting, and social interaction in the often murky waters where visual cues are limited. The acoustic repertoire of these dolphins is vital for their survival and is a focus of conservation efforts, as understanding their communication can aid in protecting these vulnerable species.

Studying animal noises not only helps us understand these creatures better but also offers insights into the health of ecosystems. Changes in the patterns or frequencies of these sounds can be indicators of environmental shifts or stressors. By learning the language of animals, we can not only gain a deeper appreciation for their intelligence and social complexity, but also become better stewards of their well-being.  For example, recognizing the distress call of a bird can help us identify threats to its habitat.  Similarly, understanding the communication patterns of endangered species can be crucial for conservation efforts.

The destruction of habitats is not only visible, but also noticeable through increasing silence in nature.

Sadly, Southeast Asia's rich soundscape is increasingly threatened by habitat loss and human encroachment.  The cacophony of traffic and construction can disrupt animal communication, making it harder for them to find mates and avoid predators.  By protecting these natural habitats, we ensure the survival of countless species and preserve the beauty of this unique sonic tapestry.

Next time you're outdoors, take a moment to listen closely.  The chirping of insects, the croaking of frogs might not be just background noise.  These sounds could be a conversation unfolding, a story waiting to be heard.  With a little practice, you might just start to understand the hidden language of nature.


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