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More than a "Törööö": Elephants also squeak with their lips


Communication with conspecifics through sound signals is extremely important for elephants because they live in a complex social system. In addition to the typical trumpet sound from their trunks, Asian elephants also emit species-specific high-pitched squeaks with their lips. This shows once again how flexible these animals are in sound production. The behavioral biologists Veronika Beeck and Angela Stöger from the University of Vienna have now published these results in a recent study in "BMC Biology".

What does the elephant do? "Törööö"! Every child knows that elephants trumpet. In recent years, research at the University of Vienna has also focused on the deep rumble of elephants, the fundamental sound of which reaches into the infrasound range, i.e. below the hearing threshold of humans. The elephant produces these sounds with its massive vocal cords. However, little is known about the production of the high-frequency sounds, the trumpets and squeaks.

The general rule among mammals is: The larger the animal, the longer the vocal cords and the lower the pitch of their sounds. Conversely, this means that there is an upper limit to the pitch that can be achieved with the help of the vocal cords in the larynx. And the extremely high squeaks that only Asian elephants produce when they are excited do not fit into this spectrum.

In her current study, Veronika Beeck from the Department of Behavioral and Cognitive Biology at the University of Vienna, together with her supervisor Angela Stöger from the Mammal Communication Lab, and Gunnar Heilmann and Michael Kerscher from gfai tech Berlin, investigated these sounds in Asian elephants in Nepal.


© Gunnar Heilmann