The Quill to Communicate?

New footage has been filmed of a little known animal called the Streaked Tenrec in Madagascar. The footage shows the creatures can rub their quills together to make ultrasound calls and can also produce tongue clicks  to each other which are outside of the range of human hearing.  Because of the ultra sonic nature of these sounds, it has been unknown quite to the extent that these creatures can do this, before now.

The BBC, who’s film crew for the new ‘Madagascar’ series filmed the animals, states in their article about the new findings:

Using the bat detector, the filmmakers found that the seemingly “quiet” mammals were constantly communicating.


Few studies have been made to investigate why streaked tenrecs communicate both vocally and via their quills but they are currently the only mammals known to do so.

This may be a classic misuse of the word ‘communicate’ in that just because an animal is making a noise does not make that noise communicative. At no point in the article does it make any claim about what it might be that they are trying to communicate to each other and the only assertation that is made as to why the Tenrecs might be making ultrasonic noises is when the story goes on to state that scientists hypothesize that these ultrasonic sounds are being used as echo location and so to call these sounds communication is the same as calling our ability to see where we’re going communicative (it’s not).

Not to completely discredit the premise of the story by the BBC, the behaviour of producing the ultrasonic sounds using the quills could be a form of stridulation which is used by other animals to attract a mate, act as a warning signal or to protect territory. If this is the case it could be groundbreaking stuff as stridulation has never been seen before in mammals. But until the production of sound can be seen to manipulate the behaviour of others it seems ‘communication’ may be too strong of a word.