Chimpanzees from two neighboring communities in Budongo Forest, Uganda, use leaf gestures in different dialects to communicate with members of their group, often flirting.
Findings from researchers at the University of St Andrews, published in the journal Scientific Reports, show that a chimpanzee community will use its preferred form of leaf gesture, and that neighboring groups may use different forms, with each group having its own leaf gesture. Dialects.
Gestural communication is an integral part of chimpanzee social life. Chimpanzees use gestures to order food, navigate social interactions, and compensate after fights. Gestures vary greatly: some are performed only with the hand, others involve touching another person, and still others involve manipulating objects common to chimpanzees’ environment, such as sticks, trees, and leaves.
For example, leaf gestures might include modifying the leaves by tearing or plucking them with a distinctive sound or by plucking them from the stem, such as plucking the petals of a daisy: “She loves me, she loves me not.” These leaf modification gestures are similar to one another and have been observed in almost all studied chimpanzee societies from East to West Africa. But for the first time, researchers have shown that each group maintains its own style or tone of leaf-modifying gestures, and that these differences cannot be explained by differences in forest environment or genes.
According to Gal Badhi, lead author of the study: “Like human dialects, the different forms of gestures used by the two communities are used in the same contexts and seem to have the same meaning. It makes me think of the song ‘You Say Potayto’.” ‘Potaato’, I say; It’s the same word, with the same meaning, but with a different pronunciation. “
Dialects are often considered an essential cultural component of human and non-human animal societies. Although chimpanzees have been shown to be very good at learning socially from each other – for example how to make the right tool – scientists have rarely found evidence that their social environment also shapes their communication. This new finding suggests that chimpanzees, like other competent animal communicators such as songbirds, whales, and humans, learn some aspects of gestural communication socially.
In the words of Dr. Kat Hupeter, lead author of the study: “These gestures are very common, but deep in the jungle, it can be hard to see the details, so we tried to do a little bit of chimpanzee archeology.” We were on our way to see the remains of the leaves. Each method of shredding leaves left a different pattern, so we were able to tell who was using which method.”
In a statement, he adds, “They use these code-modifying gestures for a number of reasons, but the most common reason chimpanzees use Budongo is as a kind of nodding ‘pickup line’: it’s the equivalent of courting a chimpanzee.”; And it turns out that even after you’ve worked up the courage to ask a girl if she’s interested, you still have to figure out how to do it the “local” style.
Editing: Laura Espejo
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