Do Cows Moo in Different Accents?


Reader Erica emailed to say, “I heard on Twitter, from one of those 'amazing facts' accounts, that cows moo in regional accents. Is that true?”

It’s hard not to love the idea of cows mooing differently around the world. I very much want this to be true, and if you Google “cow accents,” you might think it is. The BBC says it. NPR says it. Pretty much every major paper in the UK says it. Unfortunately, the answer is closer to “Maybe? Nobody knows.”

Most of the stories that say, “yeah, cows have accents” came out at around the same time in 2006, and many of them relied on two sources: anecdotal reports from British dairy farmers, and John Wells, a Professor of Phonetics at University College London. 

According to Wells, though, most of the support he seemingly provides for the idea in these stories is really a “selective and garbled version of what I had said.”

He explained to the University of Pennsylvania’s Language Log blog around the time the stories started popping up that a lot of his quotes were really the inventions of a public relations firm.

“They had been engaged by a cheese manufacturer, West Country Farmhouse Cheesemakers, to publicize their regional varieties of cheese,” Wells told Language Log in an email. “They telephoned me to ask whether there was any possibility that cows' moos might vary geographically. I told them I thought it highly unlikely; but that there was well established scientific evidence that several species of bird exhibit regional variability in their calls, so you could not entirely rule out the possibility.

“Cows, of course, do not in general form stable isolated populations such as would presumably be necessary to allow such regional diversity to develop,” he continued. “On the contrary, cattle are bought and sold and trucked around the country and indeed internationally.”

Wells’ “possibly, but probably not” was spun into a “yes” in many stories, and things only got further out of control from there. Some coverage claimed that Wells and/or other researchers had confirmed the farmers’ observations with a study of cow vocalizations. If such a study was conducted, though, no one seems to have wanted people to read it. While there are scientific papers on moos as indicators of a cow’s “physiological and psychological functioning” and reproductive status, there doesn’t appear to be any published research on geographic variations in moos.

Big Questions
What Makes a Cat's Tail Puff Up When It's Scared?

Cats wear their emotions on their tails, not their sleeves. They tap their fluffy rear appendages during relaxing naps, thrash them while tense, and hold them stiff and aloft when they’re feeling aggressive, among other behaviors. And in some scary situations (like, say, being surprised by a cucumber), a cat’s tail will actually expand, puffing up to nearly twice its volume as its owner hisses, arches its back, and flattens its ears. What does a super-sized tail signify, and how does it occur naturally without help from hairspray?

Cats with puffed tails are “basically trying to make themselves look as big as possible, and that’s because they detect a threat in the environment," Dr. Mikel Delgado, a certified cat behavior consultant who studied animal behavior and human-pet relationships as a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, tells Mental Floss. The “threat” in question can be as major as an approaching dog or as minor as an unexpected noise. Even if a cat isn't technically in any real danger, it's still biologically wired to spring to the offensive at a moment’s notice, as it's "not quite at the top of the food chain,” Delgado says. And a big tail is reflexive feline body language for “I’m big and scary, and you wouldn't want to mess with me,” she adds.

A cat’s tail puffs when muscles in its skin (where the hair base is) contract in response to hormone signals from the stress/fight or flight system, or sympathetic nervous system. Occasionally, the hairs on a cat’s back will also puff up along with the tail. That said, not all cats swell up when a startling situation strikes. “I’ve seen some cats that seem unflappable, and they never get poofed up,” Delgado says. “My cats get puffed up pretty easily.”

In addition to cats, other animals also experience piloerection, as this phenomenon is technically called. For example, “some birds puff up when they're encountering an enemy or a threat,” Delgado says. “I think it is a universal response among animals to try to get themselves out of a [potentially dangerous] situation. Really, the idea is that you don't have to fight because if you fight, you might lose an ear or you might get an injury that could be fatal. For most animals, they’re trying to figure out how to scare another animal off without actually going fisticuffs.” In other words, hiss softly, but carry a big tail.

10 Notable Gestation Periods in the Animal Kingdom

The gestation periods of the animal kingdom are varied and fascinating. Some clock in at just a few weeks, making any human green with envy, while others can last more than a year. Here are 10 notable gestation times for animals around the globe. The lesson? Be thankful that you’re not a pregnant elephant.

1. ELEPHANTS: 640-660 DAYS

Elephants are pregnant for a long time. Like really, really long. At an average of 95 weeks, the gestation period is more than double the length of a human pregnancy, so it shouldn't come as a shock that female elephants don't often have more than four offspring during their lifetimes. Who has the time?


A photo of a mother hippo and her baby in Uganda

Yes, it takes less time to make a hippopotamus than it takes to make a human.


Baby giraffes can weigh more than 150 pounds and can be around 6 feet tall. Another fascinating tidbit: giraffes give birth standing up, so it's pretty normal for a baby to fall 6 feet to the ground.


There’s a reason for the long wait: after that 17 months, Baby Shamu emerges weighing anywhere from 265 to 353 pounds and measuring about 8.5 feet long. Yikes.

5. OPOSSUM: 12-13 DAYS

A baby opossum wrapped up in a blanket

Blink and you'll miss it: This is the shortest gestation period of any mammal in North America. But since the lifespan of an opossum is only two to four years, it makes sense.


Hey, they get off pretty easy.


It's not a huge surprise that their gestational periods are pretty similar to ours, right?


A pair of black bear cubs

Also less than a human. Interestingly, cubs might only be 6 to 8 inches in length at birth and are completely hairless. 


This is the longest gestation period of any rodent. Thankfully for the mother, porcupine babies (a.k.a. porcupettes) are actually born with soft quills, and it's not until after birth that they harden up.


Baby walruses? Kind of adorable. They certainly take their sweet time coming out, though.


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