If you were handed three photos of a cheetah, an ostrich, and a porcupine, you could tell the difference. But what if you were only given the sounds these animals make?
One of them chirps. Another one squeaks. The third booms (that’s the technical term). Do you know what sound belongs to which animal?
Booms and chirps aren’t even the craziest sounds you’ll hear in this compilation of shocking noises made by some of the world’s most recognisable animals. Perhaps the most bizarre is a bird that sounds exactly like an old-school polaroid click camera.
A single animal can produce dozens of different sounds for different purposes. Here, we provide an example of one call from each.
Unlike lions, jaguars, and other wild cats, cheetahs can't roar. Instead, they chirp. That's because the thyroid bone in their throat that they use to help generate sound is shaped differently from the same thyroid bone in wild cats that can roar. That's also why your house cat can't roar.
Male ostriches are usually silent, but when it comes time to mate, they're very vocal. By filling a sac in their long necks with air, they produce a low-pitched, hollow, booming sound to let the female know they're ready. Males in captivity will sometimes boom at visitors, too.
This is Teddy. He's part of the Texas travelling educational zoo, or Zooniversity. Wild porcupines are solitary creatures who don't like to share. Teddy, although not wild, is no exception. When wild porcupines squabble over food or den space they sound a lot like Teddy in this video when asked to share his corn. (skip to the 26th second to hear him talk).
Dolphins lack vocal cords, but that doesn't mean they can't make noise. Scientists think that dolphins produce sound not through their mouth but through tiny lip-shaped tissue in their nose. As air passes though these 'phonic lips', the tissue vibrates to generate sound -- like vibrating vocal cords that humans use to speak. Dolphins can click, squeak, and creak. They use these sounds to navigate, communicate, hunt, and avoid predators.
Koalas look like teddy bears but sound like pigs. The sounds these animals make are fascinating because they not only can use their larynx like humans, but they also have special folds in their nose similar to dolphins. The deep-pitched bellow in the video below are produced from the nose instead of the throat.
Like humans, elephants use vocal cords in their larynx to to generate sound. However, an elephant's larynx is eight times larger than a human's. They use this giant muscle to produce low growls. Sometimes these growls are too low for humans to hear, but luckily they're loud and clear in the video below. Elephants communicate most often through these growls and grumbles, not by their iconic trumpeting calls.
Walruses can whistle! While most of their growls, bellows, and grunts are generated from vibrating vocal cords, there is one special sound that is not. It sounds like a bell and is the last sound you'll hear in the video. This noise is generated within inflatable sacs called pharyngeal pouches located on either side of the animal's esophagus. Male walruses will woo females with bell tones and whistles.
The red fox has over 20 different calls. One of the most common is barking, like in this video. Scientists have found that different foxes space their barks apart slightly differently, which allows them to recognise one another in the wild.
Some animals will imitate the sounds and behaviour of others. This practice is common in birds and is also observed in horses, but is not necessarily a sign of intelligence. Horses will mimic each other's behaviour but will also imitate humans, like in the video below.
Male red deer, shown here, occasionally produce low-pitched roars. To do this, they physically lower the position of their larynx deeper in their throat. Scientists have found evidence that female deer prefer to mate with larger stags with the deepest roars.
Rocky Mountain Elk look similar to red stags, but their mating calls are entirely different. These elk utter a high-pitched bugle-like scream to generate female attention. Scientists suspect that this mating call signals muscular strength and endurance, so ideally the louder and longer the male screams, the better.
Mockingbirds are famous for their remarkable ability to mimic the sounds of other birds. Like all songbirds, these imitators use the mammal-equivalent of a larynx, called the syrinx. Mockingbirds tighten and relax membranes in the syrinx to generate different sounds and songs of other bird species.
When it comes to generating sound, the human brain is more similar to a mouse's brain than a chimpanzee's, according to a 2012 study. Scientists found that a specific brain-body collaboration between the motor cortex (controller of involuntary muscles) and larynx existed in humans and mice but not chimps. The grasshopper mouse generates loud screams to stake its territorial claim in one of the harshest places on Earth: the Sonoran Desert. Warning, they're very high-pitched.
Mammals generate different tones and pitches by flexing the muscles in their larynx. Alligators also produce a wide range of tones but their larynx are not as flexible. Therefore, how they manage such a large repetoire of sound is a mystery to scientists and a matter of ongoing scientific investigation.
If you thought the mockingbird was impressive, then you'll marvel at the mimicking capabilities of the lyrebird. Similar to the mockingbird, the lyrebird generates sounds of other birds through its syrinx, but it can also reproduce the sound of just about anything it hears, including a toy gun, a camera, a car alarm, and even a chainsaw. The more diverse its mating song, the more attractive it is to females.
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