Which Animals Talk The Most? Depends on How You Define 'Talk'

We can identify animals by their sounds: a pandemonium full of parrots, a cackle from hyenas and an exaltation for larks.Communication is a key component of human relationships and how we function in daily life. Animals use sounds to communicate with one another, to attract mates, to signal distress, to find oneself, and defend their territory. Similar to humans, our vocal chords serve many purposes. They help to build their social foundations and ensure their survival.Have you ever wondered which creature, out of all the ones we share this planet with, is the most vocal? What value is there in being a chatterbox when the sounds you make can also alert predators?Human terms might describe "chattiness" as the time spent vocalizing and the variety of the messages that are communicated through those sounds.What does this mean for non-human species? Researchers have discovered some common patterns in species that speak a lot and in species that live quieter.Related: Why birds sing the same song repeatedly?Social creaturesOne factor that drives animal communication is likely to be species sociality.Some species that are more social are more voluble than others. For example, flocking birds like quelea can be heard constantly singing on their wings. There are also mammals like the meerkat from southern Africa, which is a mongoose-like mammal that lives in large, gregarious groups that raise their young, forage and watch out for predators."When they are foraging, they chirp away to let everyone know, 'I am here; it is me; everything's okay; there are no prey around.' Arik Kershenbaum (a University of Cambridge zoologist) said that they make a soft, gentle contact call. He studies animal vocal communication and uses algorithms for analyzing and comparing their sounds.Kershenbaum explained to Live Science that this is not a general rule. Being social does not necessarily mean that an animal communicates a lot.Because vocalizing comes with a price. Kershenbaum said that most animals don't vocalize much because it requires energy. Kershenbaum is the author of "The Zoologist's Guide to the Galaxy", which explores animal communication.Predation is another factor. Animals are at risk of being captured if they make loud sounds. These two factors exert powerful pressures on vocal communication, even for highly social species like the chimpanzee. They are one of our closest living relatives.(Photostock-Israel/Science Photo Library/Getty ImagesKershenbaum stated that "Chimpanzees do not vocalize as much, but less than you would expect given their complex social groups." They communicate by using gestures instead of audible communication in order to keep their audible communication down to a minimum.Vocals are not the only method of communicating with animals.Kershenbaum stated that animals are constantly communicating information. This includes vocal, olfactory and through posture.Kershenbaum stated that social species are more diverse in their vocal communication.Animals that live alone communicate more easily to the rest of their world than animals that live in groups, which require communication to keep social hierarchies intact, share food, and alert each other to dangers.Kershenbaum stated, "You can see that you may have more to say if you are in a cooperative group than if your life is on its own."Related: Animals hug one another.It can be difficult to understand what animals "say" when they voice their opinions. This is because humans often judge animal sounds based on their definition of communication, which we use through the lens of words.Evidence suggests that animal calls may have specific meanings (a type information researcher call referential communication). This could lead to the possibility that they are word-like.Some monkeys emit specific alarm calls to warn of predator threats, while dolphins make distinct whistling sounds for their relatives. Kershenbaum stated that the sound is used as a name and could even be considered a word.He said that these utterances are only used in situations where one sound is the best way to communicate a specific message.Kershenbaum stated that it was a mistake to view animal communication as merely words.Animal communication does not consist of distinct "words" that have unique meanings like our speech.Kershenbaum said that songbirds are a good example of this idea. Despite having some of the most complicated vocal sequences, they often use them in situations where the relative simplicity of what the bird needs, such as calling for a mate, or protecting its territory, doesn't compare to the staggering variety of sounds each call contains. What's the deal?One theory suggests that the medium is the message. Birds could effectively be saying, "Look at how complex a song I can sing!" Kershenbaum stated that this means Kershenbaum must be a good father. Vocal acrobatics can be used to attract birds' mates in a way that is similar to colorful plumage.(Elfi Koch/EyeEm/Getty Pictures)According to Erich Jarvis, a neurobiologist from The Rockefeller University in New York, "Some birds, such as mockingbirds and African gray parrots," actually steal sounds from other species to sound smarter. He studies songbirds to learn how humans speak.These parrots and mockingbirds indicate that vocalizations are not communicating distinct messages like words communicate when people speak. They're taken from another species so they don't have any transferable meanings.These are more likely to be new sounds added to a vocal repertoire than individual sounds.Although animals might not be saying many distinct things like our speech, their vocalizations can still be rich and densely infused with meaning.Learn by listeningNo matter what animal is saying, some animals spend more time speaking than others. What makes all this chattering worthwhile?Related: Can animals laugh?Jarvis says animals can be divided into two groups: vocal (or "innate") learners, and nonvocal (or vocal) learners. Vocal learners are animals who learn to sing by mimicking sounds.Only a handful of animals can be classified as vocal-learning. These include humans, songbird species and nonhuman mammals like dolphins, whales and elephants.Jarvis stated, "What's interesting" is that animals with vocal learning are also the ones that vocalize the most. Jarvis also discovered that complex vocal sequences are more common in these animals.Jarvis is curious about why vocal learners sing more frequently and more complexly.One thing is certain: vocalizing a lot can be very beneficial.First, sound travels long distances so communication can be improved over time. This helps animals claim territory and find mates. Some animals are more flexible and can make more complex calls to communicate more information about their status.However, vocalizing more can pose risks: Sound attracts predators and uses energy.Jarvis posited that vocal animals tend to be less concerned about predators. He noticed that vocal learners who are particularly voluble "tend to be at the top of their food chain, like humans, whales and dolphins, or elephants." He said that they are vocalizing in the ultrasonic spectrum [so cannot be heard], much like bats.""Among the birds, we discovered that the songbird parents were descended from high-ranking predators. Their ancestors were at top of the food chain. They seem to have overcome predation, and can then speak freely.Furthermore, chatty animals can have a system that reduces the energy cost of making constant sounds.The largest amount of energy is taken up by the muscles in the larynx, also known as the voice box for vocal animals. They require fast-firing neuron to control vocalizations. The activities of these neurons can produce toxic byproducts similar to the production lactic acid by working muscles, which then needs to be removed.Jarvis explained that all vocal animals, including humans have protein molecules that protect fast-firing neurons against toxins overload. "So songbirds, parrots, and humans have developed mechanisms to protect their vocal pathway neurons so that we can communicate much better," Jarvis explained.(ALesik/iStock/Getty images)Vocalizing is a great way to gain a lot of advantages for vocal species. However, there are exceptions. Zebra finches, for example, are vocal learners who vocalize very little.Jarvis stated that vocal learners tend to have a greater vocal repertoire. Jarvis stated that vocal learners who produce more complex vocalizations are those who vocalize the most.Who is the chattiest animal in the world?Jarvis stated that "Nobody I know has actually gone out there to quantify all the species to state that this is true". However, the short answer is that it is a member the vocal-learning species.Based on his research, Kershenbaum concluded that dolphins, among the vocal-learning animals of which he had researched, would be strong contenders to win the title. Kershenbaum stated that dolphins are almost always quiet when you're in the water with them. "They are always, always vocalizing."Jarvis devotes part his research now to studying what vocal learners can reveal about human spoken language. He has discovered certain genetic mutations among vocal-learning songbirds which could shed light on speech disorders in humans.Understanding how animals communicate could be more than a curiosity. It could also help us to understand ourselves.Similar content:Are there any animals who know their grandparents?Are humans going to learn how to talk like a whale?Which animal has the longest mouth?Live Science originally published this article. You can read the original article here.