Are Elephants Secretly Singing to One Another? The Shocking Infrasonic Secret

By Anthony Smith on August 6, 2012 1:44 PM EDT

Elephant
Elephants are singing to communicate with one another from miles away, a new study confirms. (Photo: Flickr.com/brittanyhock)

Move over, Adele and Jessie J: you're not the only ones whose singing we'll be buzzing about for the days to come!

A new study carried out by the University of Vienna has produced an astounding find: not only do elephants never forget, but they love singing to each other too. In fact, they communicate to each other through infrasound, a term used to refer to any sonic vibration lower in frequency than 20 Hz cycles per second, or lower than the absolute lowest limit of human hearing.

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These elephant songs, which are recorded to resound at a frequency comparable to the basement notes of some pipe organs, carry through the air and can be used to signal other elephants several miles away.

How do they make these sounds? Researchers at the University of Vienna took the larynx out of an elephant that died of natural causes (they swear, rightfully so) and blew air through it in order to find out. When the manipulated the vocal folds of the larynx into a "vocal" position, they found that the organ could produce a variety of periodic, low infrasound vibrations.

Though many scientists suspected that the sounds would originate in a similar manner as a cat's purr, which makes sound through the contraction and expansion of the muscles in the larynx, they were shocked to find out that they were produced analogously to human speech. Any differences between our frequencies and theirs come from the gigantic size of the elephant's larynx and its effect on frequency, scientists contend.

Young elephants, they continue, also scream and roar using an identical mechanism to those of human babies. Fortunately, they're maybe a little bit better at getting their young to sleep than we are. 

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