The Pest Control Blog North America

How Pests Communicate

We all know that humans are not the only animals that communicate with each other. Barking, chirping, howling – almost any noise an animal intentionally makes can be considered communication. But sometimes you need to know how pests communicate to understand how to effectively treat infestations, like breaking the code of an enemy army. So with that in mind, here are some of the amazing ways common pests communicate.

Rats

Rats communicate with each other via both body language and, of course, squeaks, though many rat squeaks are too high to be heard by the human ear. They emit two different kinds of squeaks – low frequency (in the 22kHz range) which are used as alarm cries; and high frequency squeaks (in the 50kHz range) which are used during play, mating and when eating.

The body language rats use to communicate can vary – for example when they are tense or feel aggressive rats will often puff out their fur and hunch their backs. But they also use teeth grinding as a method of communication. Soft grinding, called bruxing, is most often used to express contentment. Conversely, rats will grind their teeth aggressively to produce sharper cracking sounds. This is called chatter and signals that the rat feels incredibly stressed.

Yellow Jackets

Yellow Jackets generally communicate through two main methods: with their antennae or with the release of pheremones.

Wasps use their antennae to smell, hear and touch, and perhaps unsurprisingly, their antennae are incredibly complex. Each antenna has at least 11 short joints and 1 ball-and-socket joint, making it incredibly flexible. But the really amazing part of the antenna is the flagellum, which contains microscopic hearing and smelling organs. Wasp antennae can identify other wasps and find food, and if a wasp identifies a familiar wasp, it may offer the other wasp some of the food it collected to reinforce the social hierarchy of the nest.

Wasps also communicate by releasing pheremones. The queen wasp releases a pheremone that triggers infertility in the worker wasps (which are also female), and when a wasp stings something, it releases a pheremone that signals it is in danger to other wasps. Wasps within around a 20-foot radius will respond by coming to the aid of the stinging wasp. Wasps will also release this pheremone when they die, so you must never swat a wasp near its nest, or you will face the wrath of a whole load of angry stingers.

Ants

Like wasps, ants communicate with pheremones, but ants are much more sensitive to the pheremones, as that is the primary way they communicate (except for a few species which also communicate by rubbing together their manibles and end segments). Just about everyone at one point in their lives has drawn a leaf through the path of some ants just to watch them scatter in confusion. This is because their pheremone trail, directing one another to a food source, had been disrupted. But despite how easily their trails can be scattered, their pheremones can do amazing things, even to other species of ants.

They mark trails by trailing pheremones on their way back to the nest from having found a food source, but if that trail gets blocked, the ants will scatter (as they did back when you were a child) to find a new route to the food. If an ant finds a good route, it will lay down a new scent, which will get followed by other ants and reinforced on their way back to the nest, eventually resulting in the quickest path from the food to the nest.

Beyond that, ants will also release alarm pheremones when crushed, which will cause surrounding ants to attack. Some ants will even release what is known as ‘propaganda pheremones’ which confuse the ants they are fighting, causing those enemy ants to attack themselves.

Grey squirrels

Squirrels, like rats, use audible signals to communicate, using a series of chirps to indicate everything from laughter to alarm. Their frequency range is normally between .01 KHz. and 10 KHz, and they indicate different messages by varying the duration and sound of the chirps. The sounds are then used with tail gestures to form most squirrel communication.

Squirrel sounds can include an almost mouse-y squeak, chatter and a low-pitched noise, and if you see a squirrel flick its tail, that means it wants you to go away.

Despite all the vocalisations and body language, squirrels are mostly solitary creatures, so almost all of their communications are meant to warn other animals away from their food or territory. So despite how cute it sounds when a squirrel comes up and starts chattering at you, in truth, it is probably being very rude indeed.

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6 Comments

  1. Posted January 12, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    I’m never going to crush another ant!!

  2. sheba
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    indeed very informative.
    next time I see a squirel and its chattering iI know for sure what its telling me – ” keep away from me you “

  3. Posted January 13, 2011 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    I’ve heard a Gray Squirrel mark a barking noise, like a little dog. He sounded really angry!

    In the UK we’ve lost most of our native Red Squirrels due to the invading alien Gray Squirrels which carry a virus and are more aggressive. I’ve never heard a Red Squirrel make any noise, they seem much more chilled-out.

  4. tarig121
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    Nice topic thanks

  5. Posted January 13, 2011 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    This article is so interesting. Lately I found some lady bugs inside the house probably because it’s too cold outside. I fed them with some aphid like pests that crawls underneath the kale leaves.

  6. Adeline Levine
    Posted July 8, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    I was almost killed by an overwhelming anaphylactic reaction to a yellow jacket sting a few years ago, and thus am very aware of their presence. We have a small patio with a small fountain. Despite our best efforts there are usually one or two yellow jackets hanging around the fountain. One day last week, a couple of them were drinking from it, and later in the day about 9 or 10 had gathered there. I put a splash of Clorox in the water to make it unattractive to them. To my surprise, it seemed to attract many more to have a drink. However by the next day, not one of the critters were to be seen on the patio, and now, oI have seen none for a week or more. Are they are doing little warning dances saying “Ix-nay on the ater-way in the ountain-fay”?

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