Arctic roars – laryngeal anatomy and vocalization of the muskox (Ovibos moschatus Zimmermann, 1780, Bovidae)


Roland Frey, Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), P.O. Box 60 11 03, D-10252 Berlin, Germany.


The impressive roaring of adult male muskoxen most often occurs during rutting contests. Roaring in adult females is primarily relevant to mother–infant communication. Loud roars are produced by taking up a specific roaring posture. Acoustic recordings were made in a small herd of zoo muskoxen during three successive rutting seasons. Earlier recordings of a different herd were used for comparison. Head-and-neck specimens were subjected to vascular injection, macroscopic anatomical dissection, computer tomographic analysis and skeletonization. Isolated preserved larynges of young animals were dissected for ontogenetic comparison. Despite a pronounced sexual dimorphism of head mass, larynx size is almost identical in adult male and female muskoxen, as is the fundamental frequency of their roars. Remarkably, the larynges of both sexes of muskoxen are provided with an unpaired ventrorostral ventricle. Probably, this ventricle is inflated during the initial phase of a roar. The ventricle may have two functions: to increase the amplitude of roaring and to darken the timbre of the roars by acting as an additional resonance space. The vocal fold of adult female and young individuals has a sharp rostral edge and a vocal ligament is still present. During male ontogeny the vocal ligament becomes transformed into a large fat pad extending into the wall of the laryngeal vestibulum. Accordingly, the glottic region in the adult male lacks any sharp edges of the mucosa. In both sexes the thyroarytenoid muscle is divided into three portions. A single roar may comprise phases of different sound volume. The roars of both muskox sexes are characterized by a pulsed structure. We suggest that two oscillating systems are involved in the production of roars: one comprising only the medial portion of the vocal fold and one including its lateral portion.