Non-linear vocal phenomena are a ubiquitous feature of human and non-human animal vocalisations. Although we understand how these complex acoustic intrusions are generated, it is not clear whether they function adaptively for the animals producing them. One explanation is that non-linearities make calls more unpredictable, increasing behavioural responses and ultimately reducing the chances of habituation to these call types. Meerkats (Suricata suricatta) exhibit non-linear subharmonics in their predator alarm calls. We specifically tested the “unpredictability hypothesis” by playing back naturally occurring non-linear and linear medium-urgency alarm call bouts. Results indicate that subjects responded more strongly and foraged less after hearing non-linear alarm calls. We argue these findings support the unpredictability hypothesis and suggest this is the first study in animals or humans to show that non-linear vocal phenomena function adaptively.