it wasn’t until i had lived in the city for a few years that i realized how redneck it is to go hang out with one’s family in the back of a pickup truck and shoot at prairie dogs (“gophers”, who am i kidding). it was a treasured pastime in the westendorf family and i endured it until i became a teenager and figured out that i could shrug out of it to stay home and play civilization 2 instead. there’s this prairie myth that gopher holes cause cows and horses to break their legs, and that’s the pretext for going out and shooting these dudes! [ok, i admit that it’s entirely possible for livestock to break a leg in a hole, but i’ve never heard of it actually happening, which leads me to believe it’s vanishingly rare]
anyway, apart from the ethics of shooting an animal just because it exists, now we have a new reason not to shoot gophers! it turns out that the have a startlingly complex language.
this article from cbc gives further details on the study of prairie dog language. it seems that, like crows, they can even tell individual humans apart!
this research, along with complementary research into language in birds, is so necessary in breaking the egotistical barriers humans have placed between us and other species. the belief that we are the only ones with linguistic ability is so limiting. perhaps not every animal is an alex or koko, able to communicate with us in our own language, but to think that animals are not capable of complex communication within a species is completely ridiculous.