Horses are sensitive to the facial expressions and attention of other horses, including the direction of the eyes and ears, according to a study published in the ournal Current Biology on August 4.
The researchers say the findings are a reminder for us humans to look beyond our own limitations and recognize that other species may communicate in ways that we can’t. After all, human ears aren’t mobile.
Jennifer Wathan of the University of Sussex, said:
We found that in horses their ear position was … a crucial visual signal that other horses respond to. In fact, horses need to see the detailed facial features of both eyes and ears before they use another horse’s head direction to guide them.
The researchers said that that horses’ rich social lives and close relationship to humans make them particularly interesting as study subjects. Karen McComb is the study’s senior author. She said:
Horses display some of the same complex and fluid social organization that we have as humans and that we also see in chimpanzees, elephants, and dolphins. The challenges that living in these societies create, such as maintaining valuable social relationships on the basis of unpredictable interactions, are thought to have promoted the evolution of advanced social and communicative skills. There is a general interest in studying species with this social structure.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.