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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

What the hyena's laugh tells: Sex, age, dominance and individual signature in the giggling call of Crocuta crocuta

Nicolas Mathevon12, Aaron Koralek3, Mary Weldele45, Stephen E Glickman45 and Frédéric E Theunissen34*

Author Affiliations

1 Université de Saint-Etienne, Equipe 'Neuro-Ethologie Sensorielle', CNPS, CNRS UMR 8195, Saint-Etienne, France

2 Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, CNPS, UMR 8195, France

3 University of California at Berkeley, Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, Berkeley, USA

4 University of California at Berkeley, Department of Psychology, Berkeley, USA

5 University of California at Berkeley, Department of Integrative Biology, Berkeley, USA

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BMC Ecology 2010, 10:9  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-10-9

Published: 30 March 2010

Abstract

Background

Among mammals living in social groups, individuals form communication networks where they signal their identity and social status, facilitating social interaction. In spite of its importance for understanding of mammalian societies, the coding of individual-related information in the vocal signals of non-primate mammals has been relatively neglected. The present study focuses on the spotted hyena Crocuta crocuta, a social carnivore known for its complex female-dominated society. We investigate if and how the well-known hyena's laugh, also known as the giggle call, encodes information about the emitter.

Results

By analyzing acoustic structure in both temporal and frequency domains, we show that the hyena's laugh can encode information about age, individual identity and dominant/subordinate status, providing cues to receivers that could enable assessment of the social position of an emitting individual.

Conclusions

The range of messages encoded in the hyena's laugh is likely to play a role during social interactions. This call, together with other vocalizations and other sensory channels, should ensure an array of communication signals that support the complex social system of the spotted hyena. Experimental studies are now needed to decipher precisely the communication network of this species.