Hyenas emit a laugh-like sound, which is not quite how it sounds when people laugh.
In fact, they do this to establish dominance.
Scientists from the University of California Berkeley have studied this noise for over 30 years, including the reasons behind it.
They conducted their research on a zoo’s hyena colony and those living in the Serengeti National Park in Africa.
Why Hyenas Laugh
In both areas, researchers found that experienced hyenas would make this sound at times when they felt threatened or wanted to warn young members of approaching danger.
Some scientists reported that they also noticed this sound when two rival clans faced each other during tense standoffs.
They found that some hyenas would laugh even when no tension was present when the study was then repeated in Tanzania.
A hyena’s laugh demeans a rival clan and shows just how much stronger the laughing clan is compared to its rival.
This would often precede an attack by the laughing clan on their rivals, which explains why it is mainly dominant animals that use this sound and not others in their clan.
The laugh may calm other members of their clan, as it often precedes an attack.
A Hyena’s Laugh
The laughter sound involves a deep breath in first, then rapid exhalation through the nostrils, causing the unmistakable “ha ha ha” sound.
Hyenas do not actually vocalize this sound as people do.
Instead, hyenas produce it using their larynx, windpipe, and larger airways.
Thus, the laugh is fairly quiet, though powerful enough to carry quite the distance.
Manatees and chimpanzees also make these sounds, but the only difference is hyenas use the depths of their lungs.
Adult spotted hyenas make this sound more frequently than their striped and brown cousins, but scientists are yet to confirm if this is because of their different larynges.
Striped and brown hyenas also make similar sounds, but apparently, it sounds more like barking.
After gathering as much information, these are the possible reasons why hyenas laugh:
- Warning younger members of the clan about approaching danger
- Demeaning the other clan and showing how much stronger their own clan is compared to their enemy’s during tense standoffs between rival clans.
- Calming down the rest of the clan through non-verbal communication
- Expressing dominance over other hyenas
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