A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Sussex, has revealed that horses use their ears and eyes to communicate with each other. According to the research which was published in the journal of Current Biology they pay a close attention to the direction of their nearby friend’s ears and eyes to figure out what they are thinking.
“Most significantly, our results demonstrate that animals with large, mobile ears can use these as a visual cue to attention,” said co-authors Jennifer Wathan and Karen McComb who are studying animal behavior to find out how communication and social skills evolved.
The researchers run the experiment on 72 horses. The horses had to use visual cues from another horse in order to choose where to feed. Each horse was lead to a point where it had to choose one of two buckets. A life-sized photograph of a horse’s head facing either of right or left was put on the wall behind the buckets. In some trials the horse’s ears or eyes were covered.
When the eyes and ears of the horse in the photograph were visible, the test horses selected the bucket towards which the eyes and ears of the horse in the image directed. If the eyes and ears of the picture horse was obscured, the test horses started to eat from a random bucket.
The study established the fact that horses rely on the direction of the gaze and ears of other horses to locate food. However, that ability to figure out the interest of other horses is disrupted when the ears and eyes are covered up or not visible.
“It seems there’s something in the visual cues, from both the eyes and the ears, that are really important,” said Wathan.
“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,” she added.