The mechanics of biological radios are already detailed in response to this question, but I had a more specific use of it that I was planning to use.

My story has a eusocial species that can communicate via radio signal. Their use is similar to pheromone signals in ant colonies, where each hive uses a unique and specific set of signals and patterns to communicate, so a rival hive can’t decode communications easily. This is useful, since queens are hostile and frequently attack each other.

Learning a hive’s “code” gives its rival a massive tactical advantage, which encourages the species to quickly learn to do so, as well as making radio communication much more complex to avoid decryption (inadvertently driving a spike in social and logical intelligence).

As this species develops, the queens of different hives realize the advantages of temporary alliances and treaties with other hives. However, complex communication with another queen requires learning their code, which no queen will allow, since it’s a death sentence. Creating a decrypted, universal signal between all queens is considered, but it allows anyone in range of the signal to “listen in” on deals best kept discreet.

Eventually, a few geniuses develop a simple form of sound-based verbal communication that allows queens to have limited negotiations. The language spreads and eventually becomes universal, as alliances quickly become essential to a hive’s survival.

While it never replaces radio-based communication, the language does gain uses within the hive as well, since sound is more difficult to intercept and track than radio signals.

Is this a realistic development for a eusocial species? The only alternative I can think of is visual communication (like signing or writing) but they seem limited enough to justify sound-based speech (at least at first).

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Decoding and decrypting are fundamentally different operations. One of them is a trivial lookup in a code table, the other requires advanced mathematics, which is quite hard to imagine without having some sort of real language, fully capable of expressing everything human language can express. If the hives have real fully expressive languages, then the problems of negotiations and secrecy are essentially the same as for humans. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    May 22 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP I probably used the wrong terminology. The point is that the hives don’t know each other’s codes. The difference between these critters and humans (that I see) is that since they communicate only through radio, nearby hives can intercept every communication. I know Russia suffered massively in WWI due to openly broadcasting tactical messages over radio, only for the enemy to intercept. $\endgroup$
    – Mark Price
    May 22 at 21:35
  • $\begingroup$ If their natural radio language uses actual encryption, and there isn't also some non-encrypted radio language, then the geniuses who invent spoken language won't be able to teach their new language to any other colony, making it impossible to establish it as a common language. On the other hand, if the tribes really just have different radio languages, then you can't prevent members of other colonies from learning the language by eavesdropping, and most children who grow up near another colony will be bi-lingual. All this breaks down when you insert "encryption" into natural language. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    May 22 at 22:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Tom The queens want to avoid others learning their radio language. Other hives are going to eavesdrop as soon as they find out your hive exists, so the goal is to destroy the other hive before they learn your language and know your every move. I figured the geniuses would eventually work out their spoken language by pointing at things and making specific sounds or something. Humans did it somehow, right? $\endgroup$
    – Mark Price
    May 22 at 22:47
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    $\begingroup$ @MarkPrice Oh, it's a death sentence to the queen, not the learner. Gotcha. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    May 23 at 23:35

1 Answer 1


Infrared communication.

em spectrum


Radio is light. Your creatures communicate using light. Infrared radiation is also light; IR has frequencies higher than radio. It is not implausible that a creature that can emit and perceive radiowaves might be able to emit and perceive shorter wavelength radiation as well. An analogous situation for humans is with sounds of a higher frequency than we can vocalize. Humans cannot emit those high pitched sounds with our vocal apparatus but we can whistle, and we can use those simpler and different sounds for abbreviated but useful communication.

Infrared is like whistling for your aliens. Infrared is absorbed by environmental solids and atmosphere to a much greater degree than radio and so is more suitable to private communications, like between your queens, or between your remote and your TV.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Could infrared force the creatures to meet/send messengers to each other due to greater interference? The important bit I’m looking for is the dynamic of needing to physically meet to communicate, as opposed to largely remote communication through radio. $\endgroup$
    – Mark Price
    May 22 at 21:45
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    $\begingroup$ @MarkPrice - totally yes! If you want to use your IR TV remote on your TV you have to get close. If you had a radiowave TV remote you could control every TV in your building from the comfort of your tub. And I know you would. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    May 22 at 21:51
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    $\begingroup$ One more question- if a predator could see infrared light (like a coyote or fox), could it potentially “see” the creatures using this method to communicate? I imagine it would appear as if the creature’s antennae were glowing. (I apologize for my lack of technical knowledge, but it gives me more ideas for my world.) $\endgroup$
    – Mark Price
    May 22 at 22:01
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    $\begingroup$ @MarkPrice - You could make it this way. You could take it further and have the electromagnetic apparatus of your creatures emit light in the visible spectrum instead of infrared. It is all just light. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    May 22 at 22:59
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    $\begingroup$ Infrared may not be the best idea as it is already naturally radiated by warm-blooded creatures, because of heat. $\endgroup$
    – LWS SWL
    May 23 at 16:32

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