Sciency Words: Zoosemiotics (An A to Z Challenge Post)

Today’s post is a special A to Z Challenge edition of Sciency Words, an ongoing series here on Planet Pailly where we take a look at some interesting science or science related term so we can all expand our scientific vocabularies together. In today’s post, Z is for:


As a writer, words are my trade. As a science fiction writer, I feel scientific terminology is crucial to what I do, which is why I write this Sciency Words series.

But it’s also important to recognize the limitations of written and spoken words, and to be aware of the fact that language—as we humans understand the concept—is not the only means of communication available to us… or to life in general.

Zoosemiotics (pronounced with a double-o sound, zo-o-semiotics) comes from two Greek words: zoe, meaning life (specifically animal life, in this case), and semeion, meaning sign or signal. The term refers to the way animals communicate with each other and the study of this communication.

Well know examples include:

  • Birdsong
  • Whale-song
  • The dance of bees
  • Ants laying down scent trails
  • Dogs marking their territory
  • Squid rapidly changing colors

In all these cases, animals attempt to convey a message of some kind to each other using signs or signals. Sometimes these signals are interpreted correctly; sometimes they’re not, especially when different species are involved (interspecies zoosemiotics).

But whenever an animal is trying to communicate an idea to another—even simple ideas like “Danger!” or “Food this way!”—you can bet a zoosemiotician would really like to study what’s going on.

The field of zoosemiotics also covers the study of how animals try to use signs and signals to communicate with humans (anthropological zoosemiotics). Of course if you’re a pet owner, you probably don’t need a degree in zoosemiotics to know how animals communicate with us. You already know.

Next time on Sciency Words: A to Z… oh wait, we’re done with that. Tomorrow, if I hate chemistry so much, why have I forced myself to keep studying it? Tune in for the return of Molecular Mondays.

12 thoughts on “Sciency Words: Zoosemiotics (An A to Z Challenge Post)

  1. Congratulations! Excellent series of posts – I learned a lot and was entertained. I’d say see you back here next year, but I will definitely be following you (in a non-stalkerish way) from here on

    Liked by 1 person

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