Goats yell like humans… Because they knew you were trouble?
If you’re among the millions who have heard the last remix of Taylor Swift’s hit song ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’, or other related videos of goats yelling like humans, you must have wondered why these goats yell like that. After all, when we think of goat (Capra hircus) vocalisations, we usually think of something along the lines of a “baa”-like noise.
However, this yelling is not unusual for goats. According to goat specialist Dr. Daniel Waldron (cited in Wickman, 2013), they will ‘yell’ for all sorts of reasons, be it a mother goat calling for her young when they get separated, or when they expect to get fed.
Fitch and Reby’s (2001) research on larynx descent during loud vocalisations in animals and humans note that the descended larynx is not unique to humans. As such, the sheep’s ‘yell’ sounds similar to that of a human’s because the shape of the vocal tract is similar to that of a human’s during the yell (Fitch and Reby, 2001).
Related to goat calls, recent research by Briefer and McElligott (2012) has pointed out that like humans, goats can similarly develop “accents”. While earlier literature suggests that the development of calls in mammals, such as goats, is unaffected by environmental or social experience (Janik & Slater 1997, cited in Briefer and McElligott, 2012), Briefer and McElligott (2012) found that the calls of goats within the same social group became more similar over time. Comparing the calls of goats at one-week-old and five-weeks-old, they found that the calls of kids raised in the same social groups were more similar than those from different groups, showing that they can modify their vocalisations according to their social environments (Briefer and McElligott, 2012). While previously thought to be incapable of this vocal production learning, their findings suggest otherwise.
Who knows, if Taylor Swift owned a goat, it may learn her accent well enough to sing her songs in their entirety.
Briefer, E.F. and McElligott, A.G., 2012. Social effects on vocal ontogeny in an ungulate, the goat, Caprus hircus. Animal Behaviour, 83(4): 991-1000.
Fitch, W.T. and Reby, D., 2001. The descended larynx is not uniquely human. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 268(1477): 1669-1675.
Wickman, F., 2013. Why Do Goats Yell Like That? Experts Weigh In. Slate, 8 March 2013. URL: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2013/03/08/goats_yelling_like_humans_why_do_goats_yell_like_that_we_asked_the_experts.html (accessed 7 April 2013).