Friday, March 9, 2012

Giraffes do have vocal cords

We've all been there. Reading a story about jungle animals to your child.

The lion is the king of the jungle. What do lions say? ROOOAAARRRR!

The elephant is the biggest animal in the jungle. What do elephants say? BBRRRRR! (With accompanying arm/trunk gesture.)

The giraffe is the tallest animal in the jungle. What do giraffes say?

Ummmmm... what DO giraffes say?

Tell me, Mr Giraffe, what DO you say?

In the Hawker household, giraffes say munch munch munch. Why? Because they eat the leaves up high. That's the stroke of genius I had when reading Ashleigh her first jungle animal story. Genius.

Munch munch munch also covers the fact that I didn't think giraffes could produce sound. Over the years, I've been told many times, by many different people, that giraffes don't have vocal cords. So I've always assumed it to be true. But I've just done some quick research (of the search engine variety, of course) and can refute that claim.

Giraffes do have vocal cords. They just don't use them very much. This from Wikipedia:

Though generally quiet and non-vocal, giraffes have been heard to communicate with various sounds. During courtship, males emit loud coughs Females call their young by bellowing. Calves bleat, moo or make mewing sounds. Giraffes also snort, hiss, moan, make flute-like sounds, and communicate over long distances using infrasound.
Okay, makes sense. But what's that word 'infrasound'? Infrasound describes sound which is below the human limit of hearing. So giraffes communicate - we just can't hear it.

There is some research (Infrasound from the Giraffe) suggesting that when giraffes produce infrasound, they throw their head or stretch their neck:

Giraffes produce a behavior where the head and neck starts at about chest level, is thrown back over the body and curled upwards until the nose is straight up in the air. The behavior was termed a neck stretch. A similar behavior was also observed but involved only the head in which the chin is lowered and quickly raised so that the nose is pointing straight up into the air. This behavior was called a head throw.
So, just as we raise our arm-trunks when we meet a storybook elephant, we could all start stretching our necks and throwing our heads when we come across a giraffe.

Hmmm. Pass. I think I'll stick with munch munch munch.

What noise do giraffes make in your household?


  1. The giraffes in my books when I was little always went munch, munch, munch, too. It's really interesting to learn about all those "giraffey" noises, I'd never heard that giraffes don't have vocal cords, but I'd never thought about what noise they might make, either.

  2. I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one with giraffes that munch!

  3. We've always had giraffes make eating noises too. Didn't know that about giraffes and their sounds and infrasounds though, very interesting!

  4. When I read about people searching for giraffe vocal cords I just had to come and check it out! I hadn't given it much thought, but this is actually very interesting. If my kids ask, I'll know the answer.


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