Blowing air through a pachyderm’s larynx offers hints to low-frequency communication
Elephants don’t purr so much as sing when they unleash low-frequency rumblings at friends and foes kilometers away.
Too low for humans to hear, the infrasonic components of elephants’ calls have at times been attributed to a process similar to a cat’s contented thrum. But new measurements made by blowing air through the voice box, or larynx, of a deceased zoo elephant suggest that the mechanism is actually a (much bigger) analog to a person speaking or singing.
Cascades of fast, active muscle contraction give cats their purr. Biologists have speculated that some similar muscle twitching creates the deep throbbing of ele