Giraffes are notoriously quiet. What sound does a giraffe make? In this post, you’ll learn what sounds they make and what they mean. (Spoiler- giraffes make snorts, grunts, hisses, bellows, coughs, moos, and more). You’ll also learn about giraffe humming and infrasound.
Are Giraffes Physically Capable of Making Sound?
Yes, giraffes are physically able to make sound, that is to say, that they do have a larynx that contains vocal cords.
However, because of their narrow trachea (windpipe), long neck (6.6-7.9 feet /2-2.4 meters), and comparatively small lung capacity, it is a challenge for them to produce enough airflow to vibrate the vocal cords.
So while they can make various noises, most of the time they choose not to.
Another reason for the lack of vocal communication is that giraffes are great at communicating visually.
They have excellent eyesight, and with their height can see far into the distance. Some of their actions including stamping their feet, tossing their head, and waving their mane.
What Sounds do Giraffes Make?
While they are usually quiet, adult giraffes have been observed using snorts, coughs, hisses, bursts, moans, groans, grunts, whistles, and bellowing sounds. Young calves snort, bleat, mew, and moo.
As these noises are so rare, most of the information on what they sound like and what these sounds mean is based on observation and hypothesis (best guess). There is definitely room for more research.
Here’s how one research group describes the need for more research: “The use of specific terms for giraffe vocalizations in earlier reports were based on the calls’ phonetic and authors’ subjective sound perception, respectively, and not due to comparative and quantitative methods to objectively describe district types of vocalizations.”
In other words, what one person may describe as a moan, may possibly be described as a groan or a grunt by someone else.
That same research group (BMC) discovered that giraffes hum at night. More on that study down below.
Here are 6 sounds and noises you might hear from a giraffe:
1. Snorts and Grunts
When a giraffe snorts and grunts, usually it is because they are scared or in a dangerous situation. Males may also grunt when they are in a fight for dominance with a fellow male giraffe.
Female giraffes have been observed hissing when their young ones get out of line and need correction.
Males may hiss if they are involved in a confrontation. A hiss may also be used as an alarm signaling danger.
3. Bellows and Whistles
Females are said to use bellows and whistling sounds when communicating with their young. These vocalizations can come in handy when searching for their children or telling them to come home.
4. Loud Coughs
Adult males have been observed coughing when courting a female. Perhaps he thinks that coughing makes him more attractive, or perhaps he’s just out of breath from trying to get her attention.
5. Bleats, Mews, and Moos
A baby giraffe, although still on the quiet side, is noisier than an adult. It will bleat, mew, and moo.
Like babies of other species, the baby giraffe is letting mom know that it is scared or hungry, or has another need. Bleating and mooing stop once a calf is around a year old.
Watch a baby giraffe let out its first moo
6. Noises of the Digestive System
Digestion can be noisy, especially when it involves regurgitating and chewing cud.
So occasionally giraffes can be heard belching or, on the other end of things, flatulating.
Here’s more about what giraffes eat.
All about Giraffe Humming
Giraffe humming was unheard of until BMC published a research paper in 2015. Their research took place over 8 years, in 3 European zoos, recording 947 hours of audio material in giraffe enclosures. What they discovered was fascinating.
While the recordings picked up the occasional daytime noise, what caught the researchers’ attention were the noises that the giraffes made at night.
When separated into different stalls, the giraffes made harmonic, sustained, and frequency-modulated humming sounds.
What do these sounds mean? We know that giraffes are great visual communicators. So these vocalizations must be a way of communicating when the giraffes are out of visual range (either because of darkness, or because of being separated).
Because these recordings were audio-only, it is unknown which giraffe was making which hum.
Perhaps further research using night-vision will shed more light on whether the hums convey any information about the gender, age, or dominance of the individual member.
Keep reading: 9 Facts About Giraffe Tongues
Do Giraffes Make Infrasound?
Firstly, what is infrasound? These are sounds made below the range of human hearing. To be classified as infrasound, the noise needs to have a sound frequency of less than 20 Hertz.
Because giraffes are so quiet, it was wondered if they were making infrasound. Some animals, like elephants, use infrasound to communicate over long distances. So what about the giraffe?
Although we can’t rule it out, there is no evidence to suggest that giraffes produce infrasound.
Giraffe hum at an average frequency of 92 Hertz, much higher than 20 Hertz. But as that research was done at a zoo, there is still much unknown about what happens in the wild.
The quiet giraffe may have some secrets yet…
More reading: Guide to All Giraffe Species
Did you learn something new about giraffe noises? What did you find the most interesting? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.