The Loh Down On Science

Who's Laughing

There's more to a hyena than just that laugh.

But seriously--what's so FUNNY about hyenas?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science And on spotted, or laughing, hyenas.

They're highly social animals who, it turns out, do more than laugh. Their complex vocal repertoire includes grunts, groans, whoops, and giggles.

Fr?d?ric Theunissen and his team at the University of California in Berkeley wondered why.

To find out, they presented a captive hyena colony with a pile of meaty bones, then an empty cage, then a litter of unfamiliar cubs. As the adult hyenas approached each object, they ... groaned.

But the groans were different and distinct. For a yummy meal, the sound was growly, threatening:

Sound: Hyena (low growl)

With the cubs, the groan was higher--to a hyena, friendly, more reassuring.

Sound: Hyena (higher growl)

Uh .. reassuring if you're a baby hyena ...

Because hyena cubs live in communal dens, Theunissen thinks they learn to recognize their own mother's voice. But even strangers don't want to scare the little guys. The study suggests that hyena communication is more highly developed than we thought.

And remember, people--they're not laughing AT you-- they're laughing WITH you.

Sound: Hyena (laughing) Stop it!! Crowd Control


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