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Q: animals that communicate the location of food to other animals ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: animals that communicate the location of food to other animals
Category: Science > Biology
Asked by: agolding-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 11 Nov 2002 13:42 PST
Expires: 11 Dec 2002 13:42 PST
Question ID: 105532
I am looking for examples of animals that communicate the location of
food to other animals.  Examples I already have: (1) honeybee does a
dance (circular or waggle) to tell other bees the location of a food
source; (2) African honeyguide (a.k.a. indicator indicator) leads
honey badgers (and humans) to beehives; (3) ants leave a scent trail
for other ants to follow; (4) pigs (and sometimes dogs) sniff out
truffles.  I am looking for one or more additional examples.  What I
am *not* looking for: (1) minor variations on my 4 examples above
(e.g., another insect that leaves a pheromone trail); (2) animals that
merely provide or share food rather than communicating its location
(e.g., any animal parent that feeds its young); (3) animals that
communicate the presence of food unintentionally (e.g., a vulture
circling its prey).  I will tip significantly if you can provide more
than one example.
Subject: Re: animals that communicate the location of food to other animals
Answered By: knowledge_seeker-ga on 11 Nov 2002 18:23 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi agolding-ga,

Well, what a great question!  Animal communications and behaviour has
been my pet interest for, well let’s just say, many years. You
question poses some interesting questions, like the difference between
true communication and mimicry and whether or not animals can truly
pass on information with intent.

I’m familiar with all of your examples, so I’ve worked hard to try to
depart as far as possible from them in order to give you some new data

Take a look at these and I’m sure you’ll find that they fit your
criteria for “new” examples.


Of course, chimpanzees (and other apes) have a very complex
communications system. They vocalize, gesture, and respond to scent
and visual signals.  Chimps regularly vocalize to communicate the
presence of a food source in order to draw other chimps to the
location of the food. It’s sort of a “Hey you guys, look over here!”

"Chimpanzees do have a wide range of calls, and these certainly serve
to convey some types of information. When a chimp finds good food he
utters loud barks; other chimps in the vicinity instantly become aware
of the food source and hurry to join in.”

Dance, Song and the Origin of Culture: Heterochronic Patterns

To clarify, this is not an automatic response to food which
“accidentally” alerts others to a food source. It is a call the chimp
may choose or not choose to give depending on whether or not it wants
to give away the location of the food.

“Jane Goodall has commented on numerous instances when individual
chimps, foraging in a larger group, will come across a source of food,
not give a food-location call, and later circle back when the others
are out of sight to eat it up.”

Machiavellian Monkeys & Shakespearean Apes: The Question of Primate

As an aside, (because I can’t back it up with a link) I do remember
reading about Washoe, the chimp who is famous for learning American
Sign Language, and how she would take her trainers by the hand and
SHOW them the food she wanted when she couldn’t find the right ALS


“Seven distinct calls have been noticed. These include a shrill long
distance call, a loud feeding call, a “chok” mobbing call and a play
call to infants....”

“chirp: This call is a short, moderately loud, high-pitched whistle
(Heltne et al., 1981). … This common call is given by all members of
the group, and this call is heard in situations of the discovery,
selection, and eating of food and in the change of rest posture and
movement (Heltne et al., 1981). This call functions to communicate
presence, movement, or food, and this is responded to with
vocalizations or approach (Heltne et al., 1981).”

Goeldi's Marmoset (Callimico goeldii)


Leaf cutter ants are unusual in the social insect world in that they
do not use pheromone trails as their sole method of leading other
workers to the site of food. In addition they employ vibrational
signals which attract other ants to the site.

“Our investigations of the multimodality of communication signals in
leaf-cutting ants showed that workers produce vibrational signals
(stridulation) while cutting leaves. These vibrations function as
close-range recruitment signals.”

Communication, ecophysiology and energetics in leaf cutting ants


Naked mole rats are the only mammal to live in a eusocial structure
like that of termites or bees. They live blindly in the world of
underground tunnels; have a “queen” who mothers all of the young, and
maintain a cadre of “worker” males who forage and bring home the food.
 “Telling” other workers where a food cache is located is an important
part of a workers task.

“As soon as a mole-rat scout located the … sweet potato bits, it would
pick up one piece in its mouth and scurry directly back to the nest
chamber, making a distinctive "chirp" call along the way. Once in the
nest, the biologists observed, the scout would wave the food aloft in
its mouth for all to smell... The chirp-and-wave recruitment maneuver
set off mini-stampedes of mole-rat recruits…find their way to the new
food sources without the scouts to guide them.”

Naked mole-rats share food with a chirp and a wave

Naked Mole-Rat (Heterocephalus glaber)


Although none of the articles I found mention food specifically,
several fascinating studies have shown that infrasound is the way in
which elephants communicate location, behaviours, intent, sexual
receptivity and the presence of water sources over many kilometres.
(Though, in a desert environment I would assume a water source would
also infer a food source)  Low frequency sound waves traveling through
both air ground (to be picked up by the elephants’ feet) can serve to
coordinate movements with far off herds.

“The flexible, soft skin of the foot acts like a drum head, perhaps,
to sense vibrations which travel from the toe nails to the ear by bone
conduction. Foot stomping and low-frequency rumbling generated by one
group of elephants are picked up by another group far away…..These
sounds are too low for humans to hear, but they travel through the air
to alert other elephants to danger, the location of water, and mating


The legends of Mashatu : Lets Talk - The World of Elephant
By Jeanetta Selier


Humpback whales communicate in order to draw other whales to a rich
feeding site and to organize a cooperative feeding effort. Their
hunting technique of building a “bubble net” requires that a group of
whale cooperate to encircle the school of fish that one whale has

Normally these whales do not organize into pods but associate fluidly
at their feeding grounds. They do however form coalitions of up to 15
whales to hunt cooperatively.  Therefore it is essential that they
have a mechanism of alerting other whales to the immediate presence
and location of prey.

The means by which they alert other whales is not clear. There is
speculation that a “feeding call” is given. However, most researchers
agree that the high-pitched feeding call that has been recorded by
scientists during the hunt serves to frighten and herd the prey.

“Thompson et al. (1986) recorded low-frequency pulse trains from a
nearby submerged whale as it made a circle of bubbles n a spiral
feeding maneuver. Other researchers noted a uniform vocalization when
humpback whales initiated their cooperative lunge-feeding behavior.
The vocalization, heard only when the entire group was submerged, was
45 to 58 seconds in duration and began about 90 seconds prior to their
surfacing (D'Vincent, 1985). It is evident that the song controls
cooperative feeding in humpback whales.”

Humpback Whale Songs: Theories of Their Function


Association patterns of cooperative lunge-feeding humpback whales in
southeast Alaska



“Janik has also found that, like monkeys and other primates, the
dolphins use distinctive calls when they have found food. …“It was
very clear that this was a feeding call. If one dolphin found food,
they would produce this call. The others would rush in.””

Signature Greetings ; Dolphins Use Matching Whistles to Find Each

“But only in the last few years has it been discovered that they each
have their own individual signature whistle, which they use in much
the same way as we use short wave radio - and also a special feeding
call which sounds just like a donkey braying.”

Bottlenose Dolphins of the Moray Firth


…of course.  :-)

So, that should answer your question based on your requirements. Of
course there are only so many means of communications. Everything is
going to fall under the auspices of the five-senses. But, I think I’ve
managed to step far enough away from your original examples to have
these qualify as distinctly different animals using distinctly
different methods of communicating food source location.

Additionally, just for your own interest, you might want to note that
in the case of pigs searching for truffles, they are not actually
“communicating” the location of the truffles “for” anyone. They just
happen to love truffles, and can find them underground with no effort.
People have merely learned to follow the pigs and grab the truffles
from them before they eat them.

“.. care must be taken, however, because the pig will try to eat the
truffle, and may well bite - possibly with serious consequences - if
any attempt is made to take the truffle out of its mouth. They are
therefore muzzled to prevent them swallowing the tuber.”


Please let me know if anything I’ve said isn’t clear. I’ll be happy to
provide clarification if necessary.

Thanks so much for such an interesting question! We
biologist/ethologist -types don’t see too many of these come through
the system. It’s been a real pleasure working on this for you.

Regards –


Search terms – (where to begin?)

Many combinations of the following terms-

“food location”
“recruitment communication”
“recruitment signal”
“information transmission”
“foraging recruitment”
“feeding call”
“animal communication”
“food alert” call

along with -- mammal, bird, fish, whale, primate, insect and any other
animal I thought of

Clarification of Answer by knowledge_seeker-ga on 12 Nov 2002 15:28 PST
Thanks so much agolding, for both the kind words and a most generous
tip. I'm glad the information worked out for you. As I said, it was a
delight to research. The pleasure was mine.

Thank you --

agolding-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $20.00
Hi knowledge_seeker-ga, hey thanks so much for the thorough,
well-documented, and speedy answer -- it exceeded my expectations!

Subject: Re: animals that communicate the location of food to other animals
From: eiffel-ga on 15 Nov 2002 08:23 PST
I was in a field once, near a horse. Another horse was in the
diagonally-opposite corner of the field.

Someone fed the nearby horse a carrot. After eating it, the horse
lifted its head, looked across to the other horse, and gave a
distinctive "neigh". The other horse came over to us, clearly
expecting to be fed.

There's no doubt in my mind that the neighing horse was communicating
"hey, there's food over here".

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