Academic journal article Science and Children

Koalas' Low-Pitched Voice Explained by Unique Organ

Academic journal article Science and Children

Koalas' Low-Pitched Voice Explained by Unique Organ

Article excerpt

The pitch of male koalas' mating calls is about 20 times lower than it should be, given the Australian marsupial's relatively small size. Now, researchers have discovered their secret: koalas have a specialize sound-producing organ that has never before been seen in any other land-dwelling mammal. The key feature of this newly described organ is its location outside the voice box, what scientists call the larynx.

"We have discovered that koalas possess an extra pair of vocal folds that are located outside the larynx, where the oral and nasal cavities connect," says Benjamin Charlton, one of the reseachers. "We also demonstrated that koalas use these additional vocal folds to produce their extremely low-pitched mating calls."

The koala's bellow calls are produced as a continuous series of sounds on inhalation and exhalation, similar to a donkey's braying, Charlton explains. On inhalation, koala bellows sound the resembles snoring. As the animals exhale, the sound is more reminiscent of belching. And, as Charlton says, "They are actually quite loud."

They are also incredibly low-pitched, more typical of an animal the size of an elephant. Size is related to pitch in that the dimensions of the laryngeal vocal folds normally constrain the lowest frequency that an animal can generate. …

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