Not to brag, but I have a pretty complex collection of alarm calls.
Through various combinations of noises and gestures, I can warn you about all kinds of threats -- from spinach in your teeth to imminent goring by an elk. For example: "Look out for that elk!"
But I'm human, and we have big brains, opposable thumbs, and extensive vocabularies.
Squirrels, on the other hand, have tiny brains, non-opposable thumbs, and practically no ability to describe anything with words. And yet, it turns out, they also have a complex collection of alarm calls.
Here's one, which researchers call the "kuk":
Here's the kuk again, combined with a sound known as a "quaa":
And this is a squirrel alarm called, simply, "the moan":
And squirrels also transmit certain visual signals, in the form of two tail movements. There's "the twitch" -- sort of like a simple wag. And there's "the flag" -- a much more complicated series of undulations.
Recently, researchers from the University of Miami set out to decipher this squirrel messaging. And it turns out that the squirrels combine tail movements and sounds in specific ways depending on the nature of the threat. That is, whether the threat is coming from the air or the ground.
What's unclear is for whose benefit the squirrels give these fancy performances -- whether the sounds and tail movements tell a predator that the squirrel has seen it, or tell other squirrels there's a predator. And so far, the researchers think...it's both.
The research is still in progress. But what's already obvious is that those tiny creatures, whose brains are about the size of walnuts, have developed a rich language of alarm calls.
No word yet as to whether squirrels have an alarm combination for potentially humiliating costumes (GETTY IMAGES)