The Lion King: Why do hyenas laugh?

When we talk about the movie, ‘The Lion King’, we often think about Simba the lion, Timon the meerkat, Pumbaa the warthog and the bad guys, the laughing hyenas.

So what is a hyena and do hyenas really laugh as depicted in the movie?

The Hyenas shown in the movie are the Spotted Hyenas, Crocuta crocuta, which belong to the family of Hyaenidae. Spotted Hyenas live in a clan, which is led by a single alpha-female and a clan can consist up to 80 individuals.

Hyenas’ laugh is to depict the hyenas’ age and social status. The giggles that the hyenas give out differ in pitch and variation in the frequency of notes.

Pitch of the giggle reveals the hyenas’ age. Before hyenas reach maturity of three years of age, it is considered as a young hyena. And young hyenas tend to have a higher pitched giggle.

On the other hand, variation in the frequency of notes can give information about the hyenas’ social status, alpha-dominant females or subordinate females. Subordinate females’ calls tend to be more inconsistent while dominant females tend to not giggle too much.

The Spotted Hyenas, also famously known as the Laughing Hyenas, really do laugh! So when you encounter a laughing hyena next time, you should be able to know what the hyena is laughing about!

Links To Secondary Source:

The journal of the Acoustical Society of American, Volume 125, Issue 4, pp. 2709 (April 2009): The hyena’s laugh as a multi-informative signal (A). Retrieved from Accessed on 8 April 2010


Google image, The Lion King. Retrieved from Accessed on 8 April 2010


Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Spotted Hyena. Retrieved from Accessed on 8 April 2010

“Hyena giggles no laughing matter” by Jason Palmer, 12 May 2009. Accessed on 8 April 2010

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *