Lions, Tigers and … Babies? (oh my!)

The National Center for Voice and Speech scientists (administratively led from the University of Utah) and collaborators from around the country have recently published a new paper, one more in a series of papers on large cat phonation (lions and tigers). These ongoing experiments have been conducted at the Iowa, Denver and Utah locations of the NCVS, with contributions of 11 different Ph.D. level researchers from 6 different institutions. The first of these experiments was conducted in 2005.  Special thanks to the Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo who donated the tissue samples.


S. A. Klemuk, T Riede, E. J. Walsh, I. R. Titze. Adapted to Roar: Functional Morphology of Tiger and Lion Vocal Folds. PLoS One, 2011

I. R. Titze, W. T. Fitch, E. J. Hunter, F. Alipour, D. Montequin, D. L. Armstrong, J. McGee, and E. J. Walsh. Vocal power and pressure-flow relationships in excised tiger larynges. J.Exp.Biol. 213 (Pt 22):3866-3873, 2010.


As we have worked on these papers, it became clear that the tiger has some unique vocal qualities. The most resent paper garnered a press release from the University of Utah News Center with the comparison between a child cry and a tiger roar: Born to Roar; Scientists: Lions and Tigers Roar a Bit Like Babies Cry .  This press release has resulted in several stories about our research:


Was Babys und Tiger verbindet (Spiegel)
How do lions grab attention? They roar like babies (MSNBC) and related (Live Science)
That Baby Really Does Roar Like a Lion (Discovery Channel)
Lions and Tigers Bear Vocal Cords for Roars (Scientific American)– comes with a nice podcast too
Secrets of a Lion’s Roar (Smithsonian Magazine)
What makes lions and tigers’ roars so fearsome (TruthDive)
What makes lions and tigers’ roars so fearsome (NewsTrack India)
Lion roar ‘replica of crying baby’ (Press Association)
Born to roar – but lions are just big cry babies says new study (Earth Times)
How do lions grab attention? They roar like babies (MSNBC)
Lion roar ‘replica of crying baby’ (Belfast Telegraph)
Baby’s cry and lion’s roar are quite similar, say scientists (Mother Nature Network)
University of Utah research: Big cats are loud because of vocal folds’ shape, not size (Salt Lake Tribune)
I am baby, hear me roar! University of Utah team studies lions’ low-pitched roars (The Deseret News)
Repairing Nerves and Roaring Lions (The Naked Scientists, podcast)
Fat Layer on Vocal Cords Gives Big Cats Their Roar (The New York Times)

e!Science News


University of Utah news release on EurekAlert
Public Library of Science news release on EurekAlert (adapted from UU news release)
U of Utah news release on Newswise


Below are some videos and other files from the research which may be of interest:
MRI video of siberian tiger
siberian tiger high speed video






There have been many people who contributed to this work.  Likely we have missed one: Douglas Armstrong, Fari Alipour, Tecumseh Fitch, Eric Hunter, Sanyu Jaiswal, Sarah Klemuk, JoAnn McGee, Doug Montequin, Tobias Riede, Andrew Starr,  Ingo Titze,  Edward Walsh.

Also, the first study in 2005, we recorded high speed images (see above video) of the tiger vocal folds in vibration.  Kay-Pentax generously offered a system for loan to do the recordings.  Those high speed videos are still undergoing analysis.

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