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Listen To These Lovely Cats. No, Actually, Don't

Sunday, May 04, 2014 - 05:00 AM

John Pitcher /iStockphoto

"Oh, evolution," writes Mara Grunbaum in her new, about-to-come-out bookWTF Evolution, "You were doing so well with the lynx. You made it a fierce and graceful hunter, you gave it a luxurious spotted coat, you gave it pretty yellow eyes and tufted ears — and then you made it sound like this ..."

 

Kevin Forrester/YouTube

What crazy evolutionary logic led to these vocalizations? The first lynx, the one facing the camera, sounds like a creaking door with squeaky hinges, the second one like an ambulance siren with a weak, failing battery. Close your eyes and you're in a zombie movie, with unearthly howls and strange, shared silences.

But, Why?

I looked up "lynx vocalizations" to find out why they sound like this. Apparently, explaining weird cat sounds is not yet a major scholarly pursuit. Mel and Fiona Sunquist, in their book Wild Cats of the World, say lynxes can "mew, spit, hiss and growl; they also yowl, chatter, wah-wah, gurgle, and purr." But the Sunquists don't say why. Another scholar, Gustav Peters, says lynx mating calls (Is that what we heard? Or was that just two lynxes yakking?) are "a series of intense mews." Intense, for sure. Mews? Those lynxes weren't mewing.

No, maybe it's as Mara supposes in her new book. Designers — be they all powerful, or natural selectors operating randomly — have their off days. How does Mara explain lynx vocalizations? This way: "Go home, evolution, you are drunk."


Mara Grunbaum's book is called WTF Evolution: A Theory of Unintelligible DesignThanks to Kyle Hill for pointing me Mara's way.

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Comments [9]

Elizabeth M. King

Honestly this was hilarious just as it was scary. I've heard these outside of my house early in the morning, and I could not keep thinking it was a person yelling. Though it's hilarous, it sounds like two immature teenagers mocking each other crying. I find it interesting that they evolved into such beautiful creatures, with such horrible sounds. Though I'm sure they're voices are good for some things.

Nov. 03 2014 08:56 PM
rainycity1 from Seattle-KPLU

Yup, Izzy has nailed it. These two linx sound just like any other pair of cats having a face-off, only bigger. I'm assuming this blog was put up for the entertainment value, because they are really are amazing sounds coming out of those two.

It would be really interesting to hear their 'normal' vocalizations, the ones that equate to greetings, affection, satisfaction, etc.

May. 18 2014 02:13 PM
Yang from Wi

You should slow it down and see what it sounds like, or subtract the obvious sounds and look for sub- or hyper-vocalizations.

May. 17 2014 07:13 PM
sepiae

territorial dispute, mark the body language.
the one in the front going, 'bugger thee off,' the other replying, 'bugger thyself, house tiger,' only that lynx-words stretch a little for dramatic purposes.
OR Tori M from Washington is right, and what we hear ARE in fact guinea pigs, caught earlier in the night and swallowed a-whole, and now those cats are paying the price, hence the look of astonishment.

May. 14 2014 04:26 AM
Tori M from Washignton, US

Honestly, sounds like two Male cats disputing territory. Just like domestic(or stray) housecats disputing territory. I've heard that one too and it's unearthly. These just sound a little more guttural but I'm sure Lynx don't sound this way all the time. In fact they sound like large... guinea pigs.
http://youtu.be/oTEZBtsjuuc

May. 12 2014 07:37 PM
Catapult

That was a cat forensics session. Debate, dispute, argument. Hard to know just what it was about but the seated cat was clearly the winner.

May. 11 2014 03:23 AM
izzy from seattle-KUOW1 plz

Ever heard two housecats in a serious fight? (If not, watch the YouTube video! Especially the one where the silent cat is like "Dude, what's your problem?"))

This sounds a lot like that, only slightly bigger. (Or like lions & tigers, only less impressive).

Either way, not something you want to hear in the dark of the deep woods.

May. 07 2014 01:15 PM
izzy from seattle-KUOW1 plz

Ever heard two housecats in a serious fight? (If not, watch the YouTube video! Especially the one where the silent cat is like "Dude, what's your problem?"))

This sounds a lot like that, only slightly bigger. (Or like lions & tigers, only less impressive).

Either way, not something you want to hear in the dark of the deep woods.

May. 07 2014 01:04 PM
Cat from Blacksburg, VA

I wonder if the behavior in the video is at all similar to wolves howling together, except less aurally pleasing.

May. 07 2014 10:47 AM

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