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The Hyena’s Laugh

May 25, 2009

A hyena’s laugh is far from funny.


The laugh of the hyena… I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

(sound fx: laughing hyena Jando) The hyena’s laugh is familiar to just about everyone. But are the African carnivores really laughing? Not according to Nicolas Mathevon, a behavioral scientist working at both UC Berkeley and the University of St. Etienne in France. Mathevon says hyenas often giggle when they’re competing with each other for food, and that an individual’s status is reflected in its call. The calls of dominant hyenas, which are always female, are less variable in pitch than those of subordinate animals.

NICOLAS MATHEVON (University of St. Etienne):
The giggles of the dominant animals are more like:

Oh oh oh oh oh.

(sound fx: dominant hyena call)

and the giggles of the subordinate individuals are more like:

Ah oh eh oh oh ah.

(sound fx: subordinate hyena call)

I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.