I must say that I find it quite incredible that inside the very short squeak of a prairie dog is a complete sentence of the form “Danger, a thin human in a yellow shirt is approaching the colony.”
I had heard several years ago that prairie dogs have different calls for “human” and “human with gun”. I had even heard that they would recognize an individual human (I can’t recognize individual prairie dogs) and, if that human had a gun last time they saw him/her, they would scream “human with gun” even if s/he were not carrying a gun this time.
However, these complete sentences are surprising to me. I generally try not to underestimate non-human animal intelligence. However, it appears that I had once again fallen into that trap in assuming that prairie dogs (basically medium sized ground squirrels) wouldn’t be smart enough to speak in whole sentences and to convey information that seems to be more detailed than really necessary.
They can, for example, distinguish between domestic dogs and coyotes even when the dog is superficially coyote like. What’s the point of that? Are dogs more or less dangerous to prairie dogs? I have no idea. But, they can make the distinction and they do.
All that’s left now is to wonder, what are they chattering about?
If we are any indication, they’re probably just gossiping. About 70% of human speech is typically gossip. Unless prairie dogs are smarter than us, they’re probably just talking about each other behind each others’ backs. I’m just kidding, mostly. Of course, we have no idea what they’re saying. Half the time we have more than enough difficulty decoding our own speech … or have you never had a misunderstanding with anyone?
This is clearly another animal to whom I would grant moral considerability.