Humans and hyenas are arguably the two species that spring to mind when we think of animals that laugh. However, scientists have discovered that at least 65 different kinds of animals generate vocalizations similar to a human giggle after scouring the literature. There aren’t any hyenas among them.
According to anthropologists and cognitive scientists in recent research, human laughing is a vocalization that signifies play, an essential and complicated social activity. However, humans are far from the only creatures who engage in play, so the researchers examined available data to determine which other species emit “play vocalizations” and if such sounds are unique to play.
Our near ape cousins, such as chimpanzees or bonobos, are among the 65 snickering species discovered, as are more unusual creatures like slow lorises, sea lions, and orcas. Non-mammalian species, such as kea parrots, parakeets, and Australian magpies, were also included. On the other hand, Hyenas didn’t cut since their cackles aren’t meant to be played with. While 28 of the 65 species have noises that were only used for play, it’s still unclear if the great majority of giggly creatures had noises that are just used for play. In April, the findings were published in Bioacoustics.
Although 65 species may appear to be a large amount, it’s conceivable that many more species make laugh-like noises. Sasha Winkler, a UCLA anthropology graduate student, and article co-author told Ars Technica that “a lot of species do have play vocalizations [and] they’re just incredibly quiet.” We won’t know which animals can laugh until scientists attempt to catalog play noises in all species thoroughly.
Play is a complex and essential habit. “During that engagement, [play vocalization] serves to indicate that ‘I’m not truly trying to bite you in the neck.’ Winkler told Ars Technica, “This is just going to be a pretend to bite.”
“It keeps the situation from devolving into a full-fledged fight.” Laughter serves as a de-escalator, a technique to prevent misunderstandings that may escalate to damage, much like in human relations.
However, the play does not look the same across species, and the aim and reason of play vocalizations might differ.
For humans, laughing may signify pleasure or help to relieve tension, and it may be triggered by anything from tickles to a stand-up routine—plus, those laughs don’t always sound the same. Identifying play noises in animals is beneficial because it allows researchers to get insight into the social activities of animals.
Animal laughter can be challenging to catch, but the researchers highlight in their report that as acoustic technology improves, more possibilities to capture such sounds in motion may appear. Perhaps there are more jokesters in the animal realm than we previously believed.