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Last Updated: Tuesday February 02 2010 16:49 GMT

Are prairie dogs able to 'talk'?

Prairie Dog

Are prairie dogs able to 'talk'?

It might sound like these prairie dogs are just squeaking - but one scientist reckons they're actually using a really complex language.

Professor Slobodchikoff has found the animals use a series of special squeaks to warn family members when predators are approaching.

And he thinks they use different types of squeak for different predators.

If correct, this means that prairie dogs use one of the most complex languages in the animal kingdom.

The American professor has been studying the vocal chords of Gunnison's prairie dog for 30 years.

With a single bark, he says, a prairie dog may warn about the type and direction of a predator, and even describe its colour.

Squirrel

The prairie dog

Prairie dogs belong to the squirrel family, and live in the grassland of parts of North America.

To study their barks Prof Slobodchikoff dragged models of different predators, like coyotes, badgers and hawks, in front of the prairie dogs to see how they responded.

To find out more about his research, watch Prairie dogs, talk of the town, on Wednesday 3 February at 8pm on BBC Two.