Chimps and bonobos chat by taking turns to gesture

26 May 20166 Shares

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Some lovely little bonobos, who are fairly quick when it comes to communication

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New research into how great apes like chimpanzees and bonobos communicate has shown a disciplined interaction where they cooperate extensively throughout their gesturing.

Much like how children interact before they can speak, great apes use gestures and take turns to help get their views across to a friend or family member.

That’s according to new research from a team of international researchers, including the Max Planck Institute in Germany, which investigated bonobos and chimpanzees to discover exactly how they communicate.

can chimps talk?

Bonobos beat chimps

It turns out they do so quite differently. Bonobos’ interactions are quicker, with their use of a “gaze” allowing them to anticipate incoming signals “before they have been fully articulated”, according to Marlen Froehlich, first author of the study.

This is closer to how humans communicate when compared with chimpanzees, who go through a slower process of signals, pauses and responses.

Simone Pika headed the study, which saw teams from Germany and Japan monitor families of bonobos and chimpanzees, in their natural habitat, for two years.

Primarily looking at how mothers and babies interacted, Pika suggested that these discoveries show “the hallmarks of human social action”.

“[They] suggest that cooperative communication arose as a way of coordinating collaborative activities more efficiently,” she said.

Mother chimp with her infant, both engage in more time-consuming communicative negotiations than bonobos, via M. Froehlich/Max Planck Institute for Ornithology

Mother chimp with her infant, both engage in more time-consuming communicative negotiations than bonobos, via M. Froehlich/Max Planck Institute for Ornithology

More to learn

Plenty of fascinating discoveries have been made about great apes recently. Last month, a new look at genetic mutations in primates found a novel technique that both defends against disease and speeds up the evolution of a species in the process.

The researchers looked for the signature of past mutations in humans and chimpanzees, focusing on one of the enzymes in the APOBEC family, APOBEC3, since it has expanded into several subtypes during primate evolution, each with unique mutational signatures.

They established thousands of instances of unique mutations in primates, something not found in other animals investigated, such as mice.

Elsewhere, scientists discovered that the male-specific Y chromosome in humans has more in common with gorillas than chimpanzees in some ways.

Bonobos image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt is senior communications and context executive at NDRC. He previously worked as a journalist with Silicon Republic.

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