It’s widely accepted that zombies can’t speak because their limited brain function doesn’t allow for complex thoughts.  However, watch almost any zombie movie made in the past 50 years, and you’ll hear them moaning up a storm.  Very scary on the big screen, but are real zombies able to make primitive utterances?  And if so, how?  A hypothesis put forth by ZRS Member, Gregory Pickman, may hold the answer.

Pickman suggests that zombies are able to make noise for one simple reason: they breathe.  He asserts that because a zombie is technically dead, it doesn’t need to take in oxygen to continue “living”.  Therefore a zombie can hold its breath for any numbers of hours or days, allowing it to do things like walk under water, and function without lungs or a wind pipe.

But Pickman argues that breathing serves two important functions for zombie survival: 1) It substantially slows the speed of decay, by keeping the body tissues somewhat oxygenated, and 2) it allows the pre and post rigor zombie to move at greater speeds, approximating human adulatory velocity.  The moaning, then, is just a byproduct of a less-than-perfect respiratory system trying to do its job.

How and why do you believe zombies generate their signature sound?



  1. Zombie moans work like a screech owl’s screech. To terrify the victim into freezing so it can be caught. Purely darwinian.

  2. Zombies moan because it is painful to be dead. Eating brains and other parts reduces the pain. When they are eating or settling down for a meal they do not moan. Source: return of the living dead.

  3. Original Laserbolt

    I’ve always thought that zombies moan because of all the bad jokes that have been going around lately…

  4. I think they moan because their horny

  5. In order for zombies to “moan” to warn or signal other zombies of anything, wouldn’t that indicate that they not only have some form of intelligence, but also some societal relations/connections to one another, somehow… A form of self-awareness, instead of just being “reanimated” dead material, driven by some virus or fungus or whatever, who’s only purpose is self sustainment? I wouldn’t believe they’d feel the need for “backup” or to share their prospective meal… The “group attacks” would just be coincidental of a group of zombies in close proximity. A “moan” or whatever that may happen, would more likely be something physical that just happens, rather than any kind of decision, conscious or subconscious.

    Of course, if it was some demon/evil-spirit-driven force reanimating the corpses, which would make more sense as they’d share a common goal and have that connection toward one another…

  6. A great hypothesis, and is totally understandable, but why WOULD the zombie moan? Does it moan because it sees prey (like max brooks says in the Zombie Survival Guide) or just to let out some air? It will be great if you can answer this.

    • If you’ve seen the Walking Dead, you know that lone zombies are practically nothing but hoards are the largest threat to groups and are likely to get at least 1-2 pieces of prey. As zombies are attracted to sound, the only way they would be able to get into hoards in the first place is because their moans attract each other.

      …at least, that’s my hypothesis to why they would moan. Of course, the grouping ability may just be a side effect of them having to let out air.

  7. I just thought that the moaning was a result of air freely passing through the windpipe, mouth, and other holes the zombie might have in its body

  8. Maybe the lungs are moving, but not doing anything. Air would go in and out, and the moan would just be like the ones Mike Strandt mentioned, only with regular air replacing the gases. The lungs wouldn’t take in oxygen OR remove CO2, thus meaning the zombie has no need for air, except to moan, so it can stay underwater. Without the lungs bringing in oxygen, therre is no oxygenation, and no need for the heart either. I’m not saying that zombies don’t have hearts or lungs, I’m just saying that they have no use for them. As for decay, zombie flesh itself is toxic to most creatures, including most forms of bacteria, so it won’t rot as fast as you would think, but as with all dead organisms, zombies do rot.

  9. I think zombies moan to attract other zombies. as we all know the zombie seed is mostly a virus… and how all viruses it wants to survive at all costs. and to survive means to infect. so if a zombie spotted any humans he attracts other zombies to increase the chance to infect the humans.

  10. In my opinion, the zombie moan is a byproduct of the muscles in its body tightening up due to, well, excitement. Prey is spotted, arms raise, muscles contract in anticipation, moan released. It also acts, involuntarily, as a beacon for other zedheads, leading them to fresh food.

  11. An other moaning possibility is that it is just releasing gas. With decay, the stomach naturally swells, pushing against the diaphragm and lungs, which would force air out; this is only good for one moan, if at all (there just might be a slow release). Secondly, having had some experience in the slaughtering of geese, even when the head was removed, any force going against the diaphragm would cause the goose to honk a rather un-natural sounding noise; bodily movement could act as a bellows, drawing and forcing air through the lungs… which would cause a continuous moan not dependent on thought or actions. Neither of these ideas is reliant on a zombie making a mental effort to make the moan.

    I would argue that zombies do not moan; to moan when seeing prey is an indication of some intelligence. A zombie is akin to a virus itself, eating and multiplying… there isn’t a need to make a sound.

  12. I believe the body is turned into essentually a macro virus. The infection spreads to the majority of the nervious system and hijacks the cells but is unable to do more than what a micro virus does. Spread. The moan is little more than the residual functions of undead brain cells. At least that’s what I think.

  13. J.T. Packer (future survivor)

    I always thought that the moan was to alert other zombies (either dead, or, alive-but-infected/insane) that the moan starter found potential prey. in the case of alive yet infected/insane, it could also be the infected person expressing pain due to infection, because the infection destroys/changes the parts of the brain that regulate higher functions (talking, table manners, ect.) which must cause pain, or brain hemorraging, which REALLY hurts.

  14. If the oxygen is used to keep tissues oxygenated then technically what tissues, obviously the tissues of the skin aren’t being perfused because of the decaying skin, which then means only vital organs are being perfused, but if zombies do not use vital organs, as in the heart and the lungs, then what is the oxygen doing. As we know in hypoperfusion the body shunts blood from the non vital organs and sends oxygenated blood to the vital ones, but in the zombies case there technically are no vital organs because the heart isn’t pumping blood which means the lungs are basically useless so then what is the oxygenation used for? What is actually carrying the oxygen to the tissues, if the blood isn’t flowing then that means oxygen are not attaching to the hemoglobin on the erythrocytes, so if there is oxygenation happening in the zombies body, then how is it actually being transported.

    • My gut reaction is to suggest that the oxygen is going to the muscles and joints. Movement is THE vital function of a zombie.

    • Is it not possible that maybe something in the virus, for example, that led to the zombie-ism may have coagulated the blood into something more akin to a gel that uses active transport and osmosis to transfer necessary nutrients to those parts essential for movement and some form of consciousness? It would also explain some of the canonical evidence of zombies not bleeding much when having limbs severed / mangled / etc…. Thoughts?

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