Pig grunts actually mean something – researchers

29 Jun 2016

A study into pig behaviour has found that grunts reflect their environment, and reveal their personalities.

Proactive pigs grunt faster than reactive pigs. Male pigs grunt less if their environment is not enriching.

These are the rather unsurprising claims made by UK researchers who think their findings show the “far-reaching consequences” in how social behaviours evolve.

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Studying dozens of the animals, researchers from University of Lincoln and Queen’s University divided them up into high-standard pens and more ‘barren’ pens – it’s okay, the latter adhered to welfare regulations.

They then measured the pigs’ grunting when they were moved between pens and when they were introduced to random objects.

The study suggested males enjoy greater susceptibility to environmental factors, while different personalities in pigs were clear.

“The domestic pig is a highly social and vocal species, which uses acoustic signals in a variety of ways,” said Lisa Collins, principal investigator on the research.

Not just keeping in contact with other pigs, communicating with family members or signalling levels of distress,  grunts reveal pigs’ “emotional, motivational and physiological state”.

“For example, squeals are produced when pigs feel fear, and may be either alerting others to their situation or offering assurance,” said Collins.

“Grunts occur in all contexts, but are typical of foraging to let other members of the group know where they are.”

To the lay person, news that animals as intelligent as pigs use noise to communicate with each other seems fairly unsurprising. However, it’s the follow-on work to research like this that Collins and co claim is of more importance.

Mary Friel, lead author of the study, noted the dynamics behind social behaviour and how it evolves.

“Understanding how the vocalisations relate to their personality will also help animal behaviourists and welfare experts have a clearer picture of the impact those personalities have on communication, and thus its role in the evolution of social behaviour and group dynamics in social species,” she said.

Main image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic