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Type of publication: Journal Article
Type of document: Full Paper

Year: 2013

Authors: Herbst, CT; Svec, JG; Lohscheller, J; Frey, R; Gumpenberger, M; Stoeger, AS; Fitch, WT

Title: Complex vibratory patterns in an elephant larynx.

Source: J Exp Biol. 2013; 216(Pt 21):4054-4064

Authors Vetmeduni Vienna:

Gumpenberger Michaela

Vetmed Research Units
University Clinic for Small Animals, Clinical Unit of Diagnostic Imaging

Elephants" low-frequency vocalizations are produced by flow-induced self-sustaining oscillations of laryngeal tissue. To date, little is known in detail about the vibratory phenomena in the elephant larynx. Here, we provide a first descriptive report of the complex oscillatory features found in the excised larynx of a 25 year old female African elephant (Loxodonta africana), the largest animal sound generator ever studied experimentally. Sound production was documented with high-speed video, acoustic measurements, air flow and sound pressure level recordings. The anatomy of the larynx was studied with computed tomography (CT) and dissections. Elephant CT vocal anatomy data were further compared with the anatomy of an adult human male. We observed numerous unusual phenomena, not typically reported in human vocal fold vibrations. Phase delays along both the inferior-superior and anterior-posterior (A-P) dimension were commonly observed, as well as transverse travelling wave patterns along the A-P dimension, previously not documented in the literature. Acoustic energy was mainly created during the instant of glottal opening. The vestibular folds, when adducted, participated in tissue vibration, effectively increasing the generated sound pressure level by 12 dB. The complexity of the observed phenomena is partly attributed to the distinct laryngeal anatomy of the elephant larynx, which is not simply a large-scale version of its human counterpart. Travelling waves may be facilitated by low fundamental frequencies and increased vocal fold tension. A travelling wave model is proposed, to account for three types of phenomena: A-P travelling waves, "conventional" standing wave patterns, and irregular vocal fold vibration.

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