Wild Gorillas Make Up Songs While They Eat

Dominant males do most of the singing and humming
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 27, 2016 12:00 PM CST
Wild Gorillas Make Up Songs While They Eat
A male silverback mountain gorilla.   (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Do you make happy sounds when you're eating a tasty meal? If so, you're not alone. Researchers have discovered that gorillas sing and hum while they eat, New Scientist reports, and the findings (published this month in PLOS One) could provide insights into how language evolved in early humans. While sounds related to food have been documented in animals including chimps and bonobos, until now there was no evidence of gorillas engaging in them, aside from anecdotal accounts from zoos. One zookeeper in Toronto, for example, says humming and singing at mealtime is common for captive gorillas, with each gorilla singing at mealtimes ("and if it's their favorite food, they sing louder"). However, the researchers found that in the wild, dominant males do the most singing.

“He’s the one making the collective decisions for the group,” primatologist Eva Luef says. “We think he uses this vocalization to inform the others, ‘OK, now we’re eating.'" The researchers looked at 20 gorillas in the Republic of Congo for the study, according to a press release. They identified two different sounds: a steady, low frequency humming and singing (short, differently pitched notes). “They don’t sing the same song over and over,” Luef says. “It seems like they are composing their little food songs.” The discovery, researchers say, could provide new insights into the vocal abilities of gorillas, as well as new opportunities to investigate the development of vocal communication in general. (Apes may be closer to speaking than we thought.)

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