This is a follow up to the creature 'griffins' I sort of created here: Anatomically Correct Griffins

The idea of the final griffin was a small tree based species that will leap down on much larger prey and kill it quickly with attack to jugular. Hunting is very dangerous because griffins are frail compared to their prey and because there are land based predators that make any time spent on land dangerous.

The are very selective in their kills. Their 'pack' spreads out over the trees looking for the perfect kill. When good prey is found the spotters will alert the other's and try to flush their chosen prey towards a defined 'kill zone' by positioning viably positioning themselves for a kill. If they prey doesn't respond the spotters will attack it once in the prefect position, if the prey attempts to flee so the spotter can't attack the spotters maneuver it to the kill zone; a location where their best hunters are hidden just right to be able to make the best/safest leap to have the highest chance of a kill at low risk. Other griffins will converge on the prey to keep driving it towards the killzone once called.

A killzone probably can't be a single predefined location, the griffins would be spread out over a large area and likely need to move around the killzone to be a location close to the prey rather then driving the prey long distance to a single chosen killzone.

There are two problem with this. The first is that the prey will eventually develop some habitual understanding of the griffins hunting style and attempt to avoid being herded to a killzone. If they prey can anticipate where the griffins want it it will attempt to avoid that, even if it means putting itself at risk of being attacked by a spotter.

Second, there are other predators, ones that hunt/kill griffins and scavengers who would be happy to drive off the much smaller griffins to take their kill.

Thus the Griffins need a way to communicate over a distance with their tribe, to communicate where prey are found, decide on a kill zone to drive it to, and work together to flush the prey to the right spot. Yet they need to be able to do it without the prey or other predators learning/evolving to recognizing the calls well enough to develop enough of an understanding of their communication to know where the kill is likely to happen.

I'm open to any viable communication option. I'll mention one example I like, but am not committed to, because it places evolutionary pressures to drive the Griffins towards sapience. That's the idea of griffins communicating via vocal calls, but with some evolved obfuscation that keeps predators or prey from developing a habitual understanding of it; ie it's far more complex the a few predefined food calls similar species use.

In this example when griffins are hunting, or spread apart for any reason, they always keep up a constant 'chatter' across the whole tribe, so common and spread across such a large hunting region as to not be useful to predator's or prey, becoming mere background noise. When they find prey they communicate it with this 'chatter', but without raising the volume or localizing the chatter, and with complex enough language/syntax that other species are unable to tell that they have transitioned from griffin equivalent of 'small talk' to hunt coordination.

This idea would work once evolved, but can it evolve? Can proto-griffins that are just developing the tactics of coordinated hunting and driving of prey species, that haven't reached the level of sapience that this tribe hunting technique will drive them towards, be expected to develop not just long distance communication but some obfuscation technique like this? With there being almost as much evolutionary pressure on the prey to learn the griffins language as there is on the griffins how do the griffins evolve understanding of this language without their prey doing the same?

I'm open to any communication system that can't be learned/exploited by other species, not just the above example, but the main question is the same, not only can one exist but how can it realistically evolve?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Scavengers and competitors don't need to eavesdrop on the content of the communication. They will observe the griffin pack moving in it's distinctive hunting behavior, hear the struggle, and smell the kill as part of their own normal daily life. Consider instead the low-frequency communication (and behaviors) used by elephants and whales to keep packs together across great distances. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    May 16, 2017 at 1:50

3 Answers 3


Chit-chat will be hard to come-by evolutionarily speaking

Let's say your griffins start with a proto-language dedicated to hunting. Then the prey will naturally stay away from griffin-like sounds. Now, some griffins have a mutation making them more verbose (next step to your global chit-chat idea) : they drive off the preys and have a harder time getting their meals (or not getting mauled to death by their frustrated fellow griffins).

The solution ? Infra-sounds

But another mutation makes the calls of some griffins more low-pitch. It could be high pitch too, but let's say the physionnomy of your creatures favors low-pitch mutations a bit more. It doesn't sound quite griffin for a prey, or at least some of them. Meanwhile, it's still audible and comprehensible for a vast majority of griffins used to griffin talk. As a result, we have a higher rate of unsuspecting preys. On the other hand, the few griffins not understanding low-pitch will miss a few more hunting occasions.

The result ? Low-pitch talking griffins have an advantage and low-pitch understanding griffins don't suffer a disadvantage : all griffins tend to get more and more low-pitched able (both speaking and hearing). Since the preys evolve as well to be more caution of low-pitch griffin noises, the arms race put more and more pressure on griffins to produce the lowest pitched sounds.

Until... your griffins now speak on the infrasound range. Since a non-infrasound griffin can't hunt and most likely die, and a non-infrasound prey only suffers a penalty to its chance of survival, there will be a hard limit to how low-pitch can a prey hear sounds : after all, they also have to hear regular sounds for their own hunting, and a wide hearing range is harder to obtain.

Thus, the griffins win the low-pitch arms race and now hunt with a really cool deep voice.

  • $\begingroup$ Given the emphasis on small size and lightness I imagine ultra sound would be more likely to evolve, smaller voiceboxes fit in small bodies easier. But yes I had thought of this. My concern had been that other species would simply evolve to hear their chatter. Though you make a good point that the pressure on the griffin is much higher then on the prey, and eventually the prey may have counter-pressure pushing them to not specialize on ultra-sound over normal sound ranges if they stop hearing other predators sneaking up on them, with Griffins facing less of those pressures. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    May 15, 2017 at 15:41
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    $\begingroup$ Indeed, ultrasounds are more likely (but not as cool). In addition, IIRC, ultrasounds are also harder to locate, giving the prey another disadvantage. Of course, one could argue that it would be more difficult for the griffins to locate each other as well, but again, the evolutionary pressure is harder on them, and I don't see bats struggling with ultrasounds locating... $\endgroup$
    – Keelhaul
    May 15, 2017 at 15:51
  • $\begingroup$ infrasound also would carry further which would give an advantage for that over ultrasound if the griffins end up covering as large a hunting radius as I originally invisioned. Not sure which works better in a region with clutter to absob/deflect sound like thick trees might have. Still the idea as a whole is good. I admit I kind of would prefer a way to justify my idea just because of how much it drives towards sapience, but I knew going it it was a hard one to justify; if I can't justify it I'll probably select this answer. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    May 15, 2017 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ I think infrasounds are less prone to be absorbed by the environment (the same way you only hear the bass outside of a night-club), but a bunch of trees and foliage could be more permissive than concrete walls. As for the justification of your first idea... I'll continue to think about it. $\endgroup$
    – Keelhaul
    May 16, 2017 at 12:29
  • $\begingroup$ I've waited long enough and no one has suggested a better option, and your own other answer just demonstrated it's hard to justify my theoretically ideal, but evolutionary questionable, answer. So I think you deserve the reward. Thank you both for giving the best answer and also trying to work with my less realistic ideal answer :) $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    May 17, 2017 at 13:36

Please note that this is my second answer, the first one focused on an alternative to the preferred OP's idea, of a global obfuscating chit-chat. This one will try to address it.

Step 1 : basic hunting talk

In this state of their evolution, griffins already have the spotters/killzone tactics, with really basic communication. The communication itself may drive off some preys, but it's better than no communication at all. In this society, the best hunter groups are the most talkative.

Step 2 : boredom chatter

Some griffins are born with a sort of "boredom chatter" trait : when they are not hunting, they emit various sounds just for the sake of it. While this can repel some preys, it is however limited to the time when griffins are not hunting, so it doesn't matter. When the hunt begins, the boredom is over and the chatter with it. It's ninja killing time.

This way, the boredom chatter trait is not really troublesome, and still has a huge advantage to the ones born with it : it's a real griffinette magnet. Why ? Because the best partners are the best hunters, and the best hunters are the best communicants. And now the boredom chatters are the most likely to reproduce...

Step 3 : everyone talks all the time !

Fast-forward to the point when every griffin is a boredom chatter : the local fauna become used to it, and only get suspicious when the chatter stops, for this can only mean one thing : the hunt begins. So griffin evolution takes the next step : the most successful hunters are the one still chatting when going on a hunt.

Now you have permanent chit-chat.

Step 4 : on the path to meaningfulness

Constantly producing sounds cost energy, and energy has a cost, so it better be used at the maximum efficiency. Step by step, the meaningless chit-chat becomes more and more representative of the emotions of the individuals. Shortly after, it is effectively used to describe the environment, carrying basic but somewhat useful informations not directly linked to hunting. Then it become more abstract, less bound to immediate events and then...

You've got language.

  • $\begingroup$ While I appreciate the attempt to justify something you thought wasn't possible I have to admit in this case I don't really buy the explanation :). If I were to try to justify my idea I think something like chatter being used before pack hunting of land animals was common, for other communication or scaring off predators by reminding them that pack mates are nearby to assist their prey, with it getting generalized into their pack hunting as it evolved but after land animals grew 'use' to it. That could even explain why hunt calls were more sophisticated, they already had complex 'language'. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    May 17, 2017 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ Don't forget that mimicry is an option. These gryphons could mimic other animal sounds as their chit-chat or hunting calls. The pack knows what sounds to use within the pack, other animals just hear more crickets (or whatever). $\endgroup$ May 17, 2017 at 17:39

Body language I envision those movies where the delta force guys are indicating what they perceive and what must happen next with a series of silent gestures.

If the griffins can see each other they can communicate with body language. A flip of the wings, a dip midflight, a headfake - all those things done by a griffin would be obvious to other griffins but to a nongriffin it is just an animal twitching around.

If the griffins are concealed in the trees you could have their plumage (pelt?) be a color that it is difficult for nongriffins to see. For example a green/brown griffin with black streaks that are actually ultraviolet would blend well into the foliage - unless you see ultraviolet as a color in which case it would stand out like visible orange. Then they could still communicate with body language.


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