Laryngeal airway reconstruction indicates that rodent ultrasonic vocalizations are produced by an edge-tone mechanism

Tobias Riede, Heather L. Borgard, Bret Pasch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


Some rodents produce ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) for social communication using an aerodynamic whistle, a unique vocal production mechanism not found in other animals. The functional anatomy and evolution of this sound production mechanism remains unclear. Using laryngeal airway reconstruction, we identified anatomical specializations critical for USV production. A robust laryngeal cartilaginous framework supports a narrow supraglottal airway. An intralaryngeal airsac-like cavity termed the ventral pouch was present in three muroid rodents (suborder Myomorpha), but was absent in a heteromyid rodent (suborder Castorimorpha) that produces a limited vocal repertoire and no documented USVs. Small lesions to the ventral pouch in laboratory rats caused dramatic changes in USV production, supporting the hypothesis that an interaction between a glottal exit jet and the alar edge generates ultrasonic signals in rodents. The resulting undulating airflow around the alar edge interacts with the resonance of the ventral pouch, which may function as a Helmholtz resonator. The proposed edge-tone mechanism requires control of intrinsic laryngeal muscles and sets the foundation for acoustic variation and diversification among rodents. Our work highlights the importance of anatomical innovations in the evolution of animal sound production mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number170976
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2017


  • Acoustic communication
  • Bioacoustics
  • Evolution
  • Source-filter theory
  • Vocal production

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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