Scientists Reveal Elephants Communication Mechanism

First Posted: Aug 05, 2012 12:34 PM EDT

A team of researchers provide a new insight into the world of the largest and loud animals 'Elephant'.  The researchers analyzed how the Elephants communicate. The so-called "infrasounds," i.e. sounds with pitches below the range of human hearing, are found to be produced with the same physical mechanism as human speech or singing.

The astonishing fact noticed by the researchers is that, Elephants can communicate using very low frequency sounds, with pitches below the range of human hearing. These low frequency sounds termed as "infrasounds" can pass through several kilometers creating a private communication channel that plays an important role for the animal. Their frequencies are very low.

What remains unknown is, as to how elephant infrasound's are made. Researchers assume that he elephants tense and relax the muscles in their larynx for each pulse of sound. They compare this mechanism to that of a cats purring, that produce sounds as low in pitch as desired, but the sounds produced are generally not very powerful. The other possibility is that elephant infrasounds are produced like human speech or singing, but because the elephant larynx is so large, they are extremely low in frequency.

By this hypothesis, elephant infrasounds result simply from very long vocal folds slapping together at a low rate, and don't require any periodic tensing of the laryngeal muscles.

The research conducted at the University of Vienna was led by Christian Hebst who is a voice scientist and elephant communication expert Angela Stoeger. These researchers removed the Larynx from ana elephant and brought it into the larynx laboratory of the Department of Cognitive Biology. They blew a controlled stream of warm, humid air through the larynx and manually placing the vocal folds into the "vocal" position, they coaxed the vocal folds into periodic, low-frequency vibrations that match infrasounds in all details. 

The fact that they were able to duplicate the elephant's infrasounds in a laboratory demonstrates that the animals rely on a myoelastic-aerodynamic, or flow-driven, mode of speech to communicate in the wild. 

This research shows that the physical principles underlying the human voice extend over a remarkable range, from bat's incredibly high vocalizations  all the way down to elephants' subaudible infrasounds

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