10 Animals That Laugh

Written by Patrick Sather
Published: October 6, 2021


The poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox once wrote, “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone.” These words have never been more true. Recent research indicates that many more species of animals than previously known frequently laugh. So the next time you start giggling, just remember that scores of animal bystanders could be laughing with you. All jokes aside, according to a 2020 study published in the journal Bioacoustics, there are around 65 animals that laugh during playful activity. Until recently, laughing was thought to be a specifically human phenomenon. Now, we know that laughing is a rare but legitimate behavior amongst certain groups of animals. In particular, primates, rodents, birds, and large mammals possess the best sense of humor. On the other hand, amphibians, reptiles, and fish simply can’t take a joke. 

Given this gut-busting revelation, we thought it worthwhile to tickle your funny bone by presenting you a list of 10 animals that laugh. We can’t promise to cool it with the animal puns, but we’ll do our best. Get ready to guffaw and grin, because here are ten animals that know how to laugh.  

#10: Kea Parrot 

Animals That Laugh: Kea Parrot
Kea parrots warble when happy, particularly when playing with other parrots.

The kea is a large parrot species from the South Island of New Zealand. Known as highly intelligent and curious birds, and frequently engage in playful behavior. They love to perform aerial acrobatics and chase one another. At times, they will even toss objects to each other or play with objects using their beaks and feet. Keas will emit a warbling sound when happy, particularly while playing with other members of their species. That said, kea sometimes makes this sound alone, indicating that it could be a sound of pleasure At the same time, it’s a fact that laughter is contagious, and this appears to be true amongst keas. When a kea hears the sound of another kea playing, it will also spontaneously begin to engage in play behavior. It’s almost as if that hearing another kea have fun and laugh makes kea within earshot catch a case of the giggles.    

#9: Dolphin

Dolphin portrait, while looking at you with an open mouth.
Dolphins emit unique vocalizations when play fighting with each other.

Of all the marine mammals, dolphins seem like the only ones who really know how to cut loose and laugh. During playful situations, dolphins emit a certain sound that they don’t normally make in any other context. This sound, best described as several pulses accompanied by a whistle, only occurs when dolphins play fight with one another. Furthermore, dolphins don’t make this sound when they fight aggressively, indicating that the sound has nothing to do with fighting. Based on this evidence, scientists determined that the sound is a vocalization of pleasure. At the very least, the sound is a sign that the dolphin’s actions are non-threatening. In a sense, dolphins laugh to let each other know that they’re okay. By laughing, they communicate their intentions and prevent a possible confrontation with another dolphin. 

#8: Chimpanzee

Monkeys vs. Apes: Portrait of a male chimpanzee
Chimpanzees pant heavily when laughing.

Amongst all animals that laugh, the phenomenon is most often observed and understood in primates. Along with some species of monkeys, most primates laugh when playing, roughhousing, or tickling one another. For example, both wild and captive chimpanzees laugh when engaging in playful behavior. Unlike a human laugh, chimpanzees typically pant heavily when laughing, alternating with deep inhalations and exhalations. Screeching is another sound that chimpanzees make when they laugh, especially when tickled. They may also vocalize their laughter when surprised by a fellow chimp. If one chimp laughs, another chimp will sometimes laugh in response to another chimp’s laughter. Furthermore, chimps that don’t know each other well laugh more often than well-acquainted chimps. This indicates that chimpanzees use laugher as a way to ease tense situations and to blow of steam. Through this behavior, chimpanzees use laughter as a social lubricant to raise the level of cohesion within a group. 

#7: Elephant

10 Incredible Elephant Facts - Baby Elephant
Baby elephants giggle when playing.

Elephants form tight-knit herds of related family members and possess a keen level of intelligence. They can complete complex tasks, manipulate tools, and recognize themselves, people, and other elephants. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that elephants also count among the list of animals that laugh. Elephants frequently engage in playful behavior and may jostle or play tricks on one another. In addition, when playing, baby elephants may make a sound that sounds similar to a human giggle. Another common vocalization that elephants make when happy is trumpeting with their trunks. All this evidence helps to reinforce the notion that elephants can laugh. Plus, since an elephant “never forgets,” there’s a high probability that they always remember the best knock-knock jokes. 

#6: Australian Magpie

Animals That Laugh: Australian Magpie
Australian magpies talk to each other when playing.

The Australian magpie is a medium-sized black and white songbird from Australia and New Guinea. It is widely considered one of the most talented songbirds in its region, as it can create a wide variety of intricate sounds. In addition to mimicking human speech, it also laughs during play. To be precise, Australian magpies speak to each other while playing, and only make these sounds when engaged in play. Given that they can make a vast array of vocalizations, this may just be a coincidence, but it certainly seems to indicate that they can laugh. At the very least, Australian magpies enjoy talking about how much fun they’re having, which makes sense given how much they like the sound of their own voice. 

#5: Rat

Largest rats - Northern Luzon cloud rat
Rats emit an ultrasonic chirping sound when tickled.

Few animals in human history have been observed, analyzing, and dissected as much as rats. Due to their frequency as “lab rats,” scientists get plenty of opportunities to watch rat responses to certain stimuli. It comes as no surprise that scientists discovered rats emit a long, ultrasonic chirping sound when engaging in rough play or when tickled. This sound is likened to a laugh, and rats that laugh the most prefer to spend time with other rats that laugh. In addition to laughing when playing or being tickled, rats also chirp before receiving narcotic substances or during intercourse. As a result, most scientists consider the behavior as a response to positive experiences, similar to how children laugh when they have fun. 

#4: Bonobo 

Bonobo holding its head
Bonobos make a throaty chuckle when tickled or playing.

While bonobos often get lumped in with their fellow primate, the chimpanzee, they are a distinct species with their own unique appearance and behaviors. Bonobo societies feature complex social structures, and unlike other primates, bonobos groups contain much less male dominance and more power-sharing among females. This more egalitarian structure may help explain why bonobos rank among the most vocal of all primates. They used a wide number of vocalizations, among which is a hoarse, throaty chuckle. Like their fellow primates, bonobos laugh when engaging in play and also when tickled. According to research, a bonobo’s laughter follows the same pattern as the laughter of a human baby and includes similar facial expressions. Even into sexual maturity, they retain a playful nature and will laugh and cooperate with even unfamiliar bonobos in certain situations. 

#3: Dog

Moscow Watchdog close up
Dogs put on a “happy face” when they are especially content.

At some point or other, every dog owner has told their pup a joke to try and get it to laugh. While this may seem silly, it’s not completely nuts, as dogs possess the ability to laugh. When dogs laugh, they pant in a rhythmic pattern made up of a burst of varying frequencies. In some cases, these pants can even sound like human laughter. Scientists discover that playing these panting sounds to other dogs initiates spontaneous play, increases social behavior, and reduces stress. In addition to laughing, dogs will also wag their tail when happy, and some will put on a “happy face” that looks an awful lot like a human smile. So the next time your dog is in a bad mood, try telling it a joke and see if you get a pant, smile, or a big lick on the face for your effort. 

#2: Gorilla

Animals that Sweat - Gorilla
Gorillas can use sign language to tell jokes.

In addition to its status as the largest and strongest ape, the gorilla may also earn the title of the best comedian. While evidence indicates that gorillas laugh when playing or tickled, there also exists plenty of examples involving gorillas telling complex jokes. For example, Koko, a famous gorilla who learned more than 1,000 signs, frequently used signs to tell jokes with her instructor and caretaker, Francine Patterson. At its root, humor and comedy are forms of symbolic play, with words and actions used to allude to certain emotions and experiences. Given this, it stands to reason that gorillas could learn to tell jokes using sign language. In one joke, Koko answered the question, “What can you think of that is hard?” with the sign for “work.” In yet another instance, she tied a trainer’s shoelaces together and then signed that the trainer should “chase her.” 

#1: Degu

Degu perched on a stone
Degus emit a high-pitched purr or grumble when playing.

The degu is a small rodent similar to a chinchilla or guinea pig that is native to certain neotropical regions of Chile. Extremely social creatures, degus live in intricate burrows containing multiple members and use a wide number of vocalizations. In total, they can make up to 15 different sounds and can distinguish individual degu voices. Given their advanced communication skills, it’s no wonder that degus belong to the small number of animals that laugh. When laughing, degus generally emit a high-pitched purr or grumble, and do so either during play or when content. To top it all off, degus occasionally “chuckle” in their sleep. While no clear reason exists for this behavior, we like to think it’s because degus like to practice their comedy routines in their dreams.