What’s So Funny? Animals that Laugh out Loud

Artwork from Moose and Magpie by Sherry Rogers

Why do we laugh?

We laugh when someone tells a joke. We laugh when we are having fun. Or sometimes we laugh when we are uncomfortable. We have a sense of humor and a range of feelings. Humans express emotions to communicate to others how we are feeling through body language and most importantly sound!

Artwork from Sounds of the Savanna by Phyllis Saroff

We know why we laugh but do animals laugh?

Scientists set out to answer this question. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, have identified 65 creatures that “laugh” while they play. While researchers can’t know what animals are thinking, they observed animals making unique sounds while playing that are not made at other times. They also noticed a difference in panting and facial expressions.

While most animals that displayed laughing sounds were mammals, a few bird species are also known to make laughing noises. It is not much of a surprise that our closest relatives, the primates, were mammals that showed a range of noises during playful activity. But dogs, rats, foxes, dolphins, killer whales, and Kea parrots also make laughing noises while playing.

Researchers concluded that laughing happens during play because many play activities can also be interpreted as fighting. The playful noises show participants that they are having fun and will not hurt each other.

Because studies have not observed play activity by reptiles or amphibians, they couldn’t conclude if these species make playful noises. This study is far from conclusive, and they will continue to find giggling creatures as more studies are finished.

For the long weekend, we have put together a silly animal reading list to make you laugh! Check out these titles featuring some of the mentioned laughing critters.

If you want to learn more about the study check out these links:

Science News: Elephants Get the Point!

elephantNew research has shown that humans and (some) dogs are not the only animals that understand hand gestures. Researchers Richard Byrne and Anna Smet from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland have discovered that African Elephants can actually interpret human gestures without any training. Byrne pointed out that the elephants’ accurate response to human instructions could explain why elephants have used as work animals, such as circus performers, for centuries. New research has also shown that it is possible that elephants are actually capable of responding to pointing gestures with their own, using their trunks instead of fingers.

The study began with 11 African Elephants that had been held in captive to give tourists rides near Victoria Falls on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Smet would place two buckets at opposite ends, one containing food and the other empty, and would point towards the bucket with food. Smet recalls that the elephants seemed to understand and chose the bucket she pointed towards nearly every time. The elephants seemed to understand where Smet was pointing every time, and could even interpret where they were supposed to go by following the direction of her gaze. Byrne made sure to note that the elephants were only trained before at the tourist camp to follow vocal instructions, never by hand gestures.

Phyllis Lee, a professor from Scotland’s University of Stirling, has conducted past research on African elephants and their understanding of human instruction and is not surprised by Bryne and Amet’s findings. Lee told National Geographic that after many experiments and observations of elephants, it appears that they do in fact understand gestures like pointing, and might even be responding to certain motions with their large trunks! Lee believes that elephants are actually pointing or gesturing with their trunks sometimes and not just raising them for smelling. Byrne notes the importance of these findings because most while some animals can understand pointing, elephants might be the only ones who are capable of pointing back.

This research shows that animals are capable of so much more than we give them credit for! To see more of the experiment about elephants and pointing, check out these videos of Byrne and Amet’s study: