why do spotted hyenas laugh?

Spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) are famous for producing a wide array of vocalizations, one of which sounds eerily like laughter. This sound is commonly referred to as a “laugh,” but it serves various communicative purposes and is not a display of humor.

The “laughter” noise is officially termed a cackle, and it’s produced by the hyena’s larynx, which is structured differently from most mammals’. Spotted hyenas have an exceptionally flexible vocal apparatus that allows them to produce a variety of loud and complex sounds.

They laugh for several reasons:

  1. Social Interaction: Hyena laughter is often heard during social encounters, such as greeting, playing, or submissive displays. It’s a means of expressing excitement, nervousness, or appeasement.
  2. Aggression and Territorial Defense: The laugh-like call can also be used to intimidate rivals or enemies, signaling aggression or defending territory.
  3. Food Acquisition: When hyenas find food, they emit a series of calls that include their distinctive laugh. This alerts other clan members to the location of a meal, and the intensity of the laughing can convey the urgency or the quality of the food source.
  4. Alarm Calls: Hyenas may also emit a variation of their laugh when alarmed or startled, alerting other group members to potential danger.

So, while the sound resembles human laughter, it’s not an expression of amusement but rather an essential part of the hyena’s sophisticated communication system that helps maintain social cohesion and coordinate group activities.

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