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Zoomusicology (/ˌzəmjzɪˈkɒləi/) is a field of musicology and zoology or more specifically, zoosemiotics. Zoomusicology is the study of the music of animals, or rather the musical aspects of sound or communication produced and received by animals.[1] Zoomusicology as a field dates to François-Bernard Mâche's 1983 book Music, Myth, and Nature, or the Dolphins of Arion[2] (published in English in 1992), and has been developed more recently by scholars such as Dario Martinelli, David Rothenberg, Hollis Taylor, David Teie, and Emily Doolittle.[3]

Zoomusicology is a separate field from ethnomusicology, the study of human music.

Human interaction[edit]

Snowden and Teie created species-specific music and tested it on cotton-top tamarins, Saguinus oedipus at the University of Wisconsin.[4] The results of this study, indicated that species-specific music was the most effective music to elicit a response.[4] There have also been cases where composers have performed with animals for example, David Rothenberg, is a musician who has created music with humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae.[5]

Composers have evoked or imitated animal sounds in compositions including Jean-Philippe Rameau's The Hen (1728), Camille Saint-Saëns's Carnival of the Animals (1886), Olivier Messiaen's Catalogue of the Birds (1956–58) and Pauline Oliveros's El Relicario de los Animales (1977).[6] Other examples include Alan Hovhaness's And God Created Great Whales (1970), George Crumb's Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale) (1971) and Gabriel Pareyon's Invention over the song of the Vireo atriccapillus (1999) and Kha Pijpichtli Kuikatl (2003). The Indian zoomusicologist, A. J. Mithra has composed music using bird, animal and frog sounds since 2008.[7]

Music produced by animals[edit]


Song Sparrow

The most well-known form of music found in non-human animals is birdsong.[8] Birdsong is different from normal calls. For example, a call will usually simply function to communicate a direct message.[8] For instance, a bird call could be used to direct attention that a predator is near. Meanwhile, a song contains more repetition and usually will have distinct structure to it, with a specific beginning, middle, and end.[8] In many species of songbirds, songs seem to be used both as a way to attract potential mates, as well as to mark and defend one's territory. It has been observed that young songbirds acquire their ability to produce song from imitation of adult birds.[8] There seems to be a critical period for song learning. In one experiment, they compared birds raised in isolation, (this involved isolation from other birds as well as the vocalizations of other birds), with those raised in a colony, without these forms of isolation.[8] Using an fMRI scan and the blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) as a measurement of brain activity, it was found that birds raised in the isolation condition did not appear to show a preference between their own songs and a repetitive song. Meanwhile, colony-raised birds showed a stronger reaction to their own song being played back.[8]

Functions and effects of music on animals[edit]


Saguinus oedipus (Linnaeus, 1758)

Snowden and Teie performed an experiment on Cotton-top tamarins, Saguinus oedipus, to determine if music would lead to behavioural changes, and whether music made by other species would elicit similar behavioural responses as the music of one's own species.[9] This experiment involved two separate categories of music - one was affiliation-based, the other was fear/threat-based music. Within the two categories, the experimenter varied whether the music was produced by humans or tamarins.[9] During the experiment, a baseline behaviour measurement was established, proceeded by the experimental condition, which was a piece of music that was played for 30 seconds. Following this, behaviour was analyzed for a total of 5 minutes. This analysis was made by an observer who was unaware of the true hypothesis of the experiment, and simply noted different behaviours which they had witnessed.[9] The experimenters found that the Tamarins altered their behaviour specifically when listening to Tamarin music. For example, when music from the affiliation condition was played, the behavioural response of the tamarins involved a decrease in overall movement and an increase in both social and foraging behaviour.[9] This contrasted the behaviour observed when the fear/threat based music was played. During this condition, the Tamarins were more likely to move around and show anxiety-based behaviour, as well as, an increase in social behaviour similar to that seen in the affiliation condition. Although the Tamarins did not show behavioural changes to human music as clearly as they did to their species-specific music, there was some behavioural change.[9] The Tamarins showed decreased movement when listening to human fear/threat based music and a decrease in anxious behaviour when listening to human affiliation music. This experiment demonstrates that music is capable of eliciting changes in the behaviour of animals, most especially when the music is species-specific.

A humpback whale and its calf

Humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae, are capable of the production of complex songs.[10] These songs are amongst some of the longest measured in animals. Only male humpback whales perform these vocalizations; it was initially hypothesized that these songs may be a part of the sexual selection process. This point however, is unclear. It has been found that males only began their song after joining a group where pairs of mother and calf were present.[11] Although the reason behind this behaviour is uncertain, some have hypothesized that the songs produced by male humpback whales may be a part of escorting, or accompanying females. Singing can be a costly behaviour, because it can lead to more attention being drawn. In the humpback whales’ situation, their singing can attract other competing males.[11] Yet, the singing behaviour continues and therefore, it is assumed that the songs are critical to the courtship behaviour of the humpback whales.


An Asian corn borer moth (Ostrinia furnacalis)

One potential barrier in the study of zoomusicology is that there are some forms of music produced by various animals which humans are incapable of hearing.[12] This music is very low in amplitude and is known as quiet song, whisper communication, or soft song.[12] This low amplitude music has been shown in birds, as well as insects and is linked to behaviour. Moth species have been shown to have developed the ability to communicate using ultrasonic sounds, and this ability has transferred over to their production of soft songs. In the Asian corn borer moth, Ostrinia furnacalis, males produce an ultrasonic soft song to initiate courtship behaviour.[12] The song that the male produces is so quiet that the female must be within a range of three centimeters in order to hear the song. In hearing the song, the female stays in one place and is completely still; this allows the male to initiate mating behaviour.[12] The reason that the female remains still is because the song sounds very similar to sounds that a bat would produce. The female therefore remains still in order to avoid potential predation. There is another added benefit to this soft song produced by the male Asian corn borer moth, and that is that the song is so quiet that it decreases the males’ predation risk.[12] Although these soft songs are far less well known to the general public, they are an important aspect of zoomusicology and the further understanding of animal behaviour.    

Auditory enrichment and therapeutic effects of music on animals[edit]


In an unpublished study at the University of Leicester, Liam MacKenzie and Adrian North found that playing music for dairy cows had an effect on the amount of milk that they produced.[13] Over a nine-week period, dairy cows were exposed to fast (> 120 BPM), slow (< 100 BPM), and no music. Music was played for the cows 12 hours a day from 5 AM to 5 PM.[13] The study found that cows exposed to slow music, like REM's 'Everybody Hurts' or Beethoven's 'Pastoral Symphony,' produced 3% more milk than cows that were exposed to fast music, like Pumping on your Stereo by Supergrass and 'Size of a Cow' by Wonderstuff.[13] Bovine milk production has long been thought to be affected by exposure to music. Some farmers already expose their cows to music to aid in milk production.[13][14]


Decreased stress levels have been observed in kennelled dogs that were exposed to Classical music, but rapid habituation was also observed.[15] In a 2017 follow up study, kennelled dogs were exposed to five different genres of music including soft-rock, motown, pop, reggae, and classical in order to determine whether or not increased variety of music could reduce habituation.[15] The study found the Heart Rate Variability, which indicates a decreased stress level, was significantly higher when the dogs were played Reggae and Soft Rock, but the other three genres had a similar but less pronounced effect. In addition, the dogs were much more likely to lie down rather than stand while the music was being played.[15] The study suggested that the increased variety of music decreased habituation that was present when playing exclusively classical music, though the dogs responded best when exposed to Reggae and Soft Rock.[15]


Researchers in a wide range of fields including music, semiotics, philosophy and biology conduct zoomusicology research. This is due to the fact that the field of zoomusicology is so broad and reaches many disciplines. Musician and zoomusicologist Hollis Taylor has conducted an extensive study of the Pied Butcherbird, Cracticus nigrogularis over the past 15 years, including interdisciplinary research with philosophers and scientists.[16] Clarinetist, and philosopher David Rothenberg plays music with animals, and has written books on the relationship between bird, insect, and whale song and human music.[5] Composer Emily Doolittle has written numerous pieces based on animal songs, and has published interdisciplinary music-science research on the hermit thrush[17] and the musician wren.[18] Heavy metal bands such as Hatebeak, Caninus, Naegleria Fowleri, and Boar Glue have released music fronted by grey parrot, pit bull, Amazon parrot, and guinea pig, respectively.[19][20][21] Susan Belanger has also contributed to the field of zoomusicology, with her work on soft song in the Asian corn borer moth, Ostrinia furnacalis and its relationship to the initiation of mating behaviour.[12] Researcher Patricia Gray has examined the music that can be seen in whales and songbirds.[22] This list is by no means all encompassing, but simply lists some notable members of the zoomusicology research community.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Doolittle, Emily; Gingras, Bruno (October 2015). "Zoomusicology". Current Biology. 25 (19): R819–R820. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2015.06.039. ISSN 0960-9822. PMID 26439331.
  2. ^ Mâche, François-Bernard (1992). Music, Myth and Nature, or the Dolphins of Arion. Taylor & Francis. p. 205. ISBN 978-3718653218. Retrieved 10 March 2019.
  3. ^ Taylor, Hollis. "Introduction to Zoömusicology". Zoömusicology. Retrieved 10 March 2019.
  4. ^ a b Snowdon, C. T. and Teie, D. (2010). "Affective responses in tamarins elicited by species-specific music". Biology Letters. 6 (1): 30–32. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2009.0593. PMC 2817256. PMID 19726444.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ a b "TRANS - Revista Transcultural de Música - Transcultural Music Review". www.sibetrans.com (in Spanish). Retrieved 2018-11-16.
  6. ^ Von Gunden, Heidi (1983). The Music of Pauline Oliveros. p. 133. ISBN 978-0-8108-1600-8.
  7. ^ "Interview: a j mithra, Making Music with Animal Calls", IndiasEndangered.com. "The only known zoo musicologist in India and the second in the world after Jim Fassett who was known to create similar music from animal sounds way back in 1955."
  8. ^ a b c d e f Rothenberg, David; Roeske, Tina C.; Voss, Henning U.; Naguib, Marc; Tchernichovski, Ofer (February 2014). "Investigation of musicality in birdsong". Hearing Research. 308: 71–83. doi:10.1016/j.heares.2013.08.016. ISSN 0378-5955. PMC 3947120. PMID 24036130.
  9. ^ a b c d e Snowdon, Charles T.; Teie, David (2010-02-23). "Affective responses in tamarins elicited by species-specific music". Biology Letters. 6 (1): 30–32. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2009.0593. ISSN 1744-9561. PMC 2817256. PMID 19726444.
  10. ^ "TRANS - Revista Transcultural de Música - Transcultural Music Review". www.sibetrans.com (in Spanish). Retrieved 2018-10-24.
  11. ^ a b Smith, Joshua N.; Goldizen, Anne W.; Dunlop, Rebecca A.; Noad, Michael J. (August 2008). "Songs of male humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae, are involved in intersexual interactions". Animal Behaviour. 76 (2): 467–477. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2008.02.013. ISSN 0003-3472. S2CID 29660106.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Balenger, Susan L. (July 2015). "Stridulated soft song by singing insects". Animal Behaviour. 105: 275–280. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2015.03.024. ISSN 0003-3472.
  13. ^ a b c d "Administration: 'Moosic Study' Reveals Way of Increasing Milk Yields [Psychology; Agriculture; Industry]". www.le.ac.uk. Retrieved 2018-11-19.
  14. ^ "Do cows like music?". the milking parlour blog. 2015-05-26. Retrieved 2018-11-19.
  15. ^ a b c d Bowman, A.; Dowell, F.J.; Evans, N.P. (March 2017). "The effect of different genres of music on the stress levels of kennelled dogs" (PDF). Physiology & Behavior. 171: 207–215. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2017.01.024. ISSN 0031-9384. PMID 28093218. S2CID 207377805.
  16. ^ TAYLOR, HOLLIS (March 2014). "Whose Bird Is It? Messiaen's Transcriptions of Australian Songbirds". Twentieth-Century Music. 11 (1): 63–100. doi:10.1017/s1478572213000194. ISSN 1478-5722. S2CID 161706821.
  17. ^ Doolittle, Emily; Gingras, Bruno; Endres, Dominik; Fitch, Tecumseh (2014-11-18). "Overtone-based pitch selection in hermit thrush song: Unexpected convergence with scale construction in human music". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 111 (46): 16616–16621. Bibcode:2014PNAS..11116616D. doi:10.1073/pnas.1406023111. PMC 4246323. PMID 25368163.
  18. ^ Doolittle, Emily; Henrik Brumm. "O Canto do Uirapuru" (PDF).
  19. ^ "Animal-Fronted Bands Hatebeak and Boar Glue Release Split LP". 28 February 2019.
  20. ^ https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/ryngg6/meet-caninus-the-dog-fronted-grindcore-band
  21. ^ "Naegleria Fowleri, 'Prognosis Dire'".
  22. ^ Gray, Patricia M.; Krause, Bernie; Atema, Jelle; Payne, Roger; Krumhansl, Carol; Baptista, Luis (2001). "The Music of Nature and the Nature of Music". Science. 291 (5501): 52–54. doi:10.1126/science.10.1126/SCIENCE.1056960. JSTOR 3082167. PMID 11192008. S2CID 191315741.


  • Marcello Sorce Keller. “Zoomusicology”, Janet Sturman (ed.) The SAGE Encyclopedia of Music and Culture. Los Angeles: SAGE Reference, 2019, Vol. V, 2411-2414.
  • Marcello Sorce Keller,“Linnaeus, Zoomusicology, Ecomusicology, and the Quest for Meaningful Categories”, Musicological Annual, Univerza v Ljubljai, Filozofska faculteta, LII(2016), no. 2, 163-176.
  • Marcello Sorce Keller, “Zoomusicology and Ethnomusicology: A Marriage to Celebrate in Heaven.” Yearbook for Traditional Music. XLIV(2012), 166-183.

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