The Unique Biphonic Call of a Bull Elk That Sounds Like That of a Ringwraith From Lord of the Rings

In April 2016, National Geographic posted a fascinating video that captured the loud, seemingly high-pitched, biphonic call of a rutting bull elk, comparing the sound to the screams of the Ringwraiths (Nazgûl) of Middle Earth depicted in J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy tale Lord of the Rings and brought to life in the trilogy of films. This sound is also known as the Wilhelm Scream.

Scientists have solved one of nature’s greatest mysteries: How do big bull elks produce an eerie shriek that sounds like the Ringwraiths from The Lord of the Rings? …two components involve independent sound sources in the elk’s body—a phenomenon known as biphonation. But that didn’t explain the high-pitched whistle. ‘We think it is an aerodynamic whistle, produced either by flaring and contracting the nostrils or by air vibrating the soft palate, like a flute’…So why do the elk need such an elaborate sound system? Mating, of course.

The Wilhelm Scream as employed in Return of the King

via National Geographic

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails. Lori can be found posting on Threads and sharing photos on Instagram.