EleFact Friday: From Purrs to Rumbles – How Vocal Sounds Are Made

As a family of animal lovers of all kinds, we often get questions about how elephants compare to other creatures. Recently, after posting a particularly rumbly video of Mara, Bambi, and Rana (lovingly known here as the Power Puff Girls), we had a few curious minds wondering about how elephant rumbles compare to kitten purrs. For today’s EleFACT Friday, we’re going to find out. 

Let’s start with the felines: purring combines the quickened movement of the muscles of the vocal folds on top of the larynx, and the steady twitching of the diaphragm. The muscles move at around 20 to 30 times per second. As they breathe, the air touches those muscles, creating the cute purring noise we all know and love. 

In comparison to kittens, elephants have vocal folds that are much longer, respectively, which allows them to make similar deep sounds, but without as frequent of vibrations. Similar to humans when we talk or sing, elephants blow air past those vocal folds as they vibrate. The longer and looser these flaps, the lower the frequency of the sound. The elephants then use their mouths and long trunks to shape those sounds.

There is still some mystery about the seemingly magical sounds that come from the core of the elephants. Some scientists compare the sound more to cows mooing and bat echolocation in that we can draw a physiological theory about how it works, but the phenomenon truly just seems to be completely remarkable. 

Photo of Mara, one of our vocal noisemakers


  1. REPLY
    Katie Howard says

    I love this photo of Mara! 🤗. Interesting information. Elephant voices – low frequency sounds – can travel for miles and I wonder about comparisons to vocalizations made by whales? Another huge-bodied mammal with long-ranging voices.

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      I don’t know if there is any research comparing the two – so I wouldn’t dare guess. But, regardless, it is amazing how animals adapt their communication skills for survival, isn’t it?

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