Asked by: Peter Mansor, Sydney
In much the same way as we do – using a combination of appearance, calls, behaviour and smell. The exact contribution of each sense to the overall assessment varies from one species to another, according to how generally reliant they are on that sense. Most mammals have a better sense of smell than we do and will trust their nose ahead of their eyes. Recognising your own species is important when you’re looking for a mate because interspecies mating is generally unviable or, at best, produces sterile offspring. Courtship rituals and mating calls are partly about attracting the best possible mate and fending off love rivals, but they also function as a species recognition cue as well. But species recognition isn’t always hard-wired into animals. For example, lots of waterbirds will imprint on the first moving thing they see when they hatch.
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