New study documents chimps ‘talking’ about trees and fruits


Thanks to a team of anthropologists eavesdropping on wild chimpanzees in the Ivory Coast’s Taï Forest, a new study documents a variety of complex communication patterns that primates use to exchange information about their favorite fruits and trees.

Chimpanzees definitely have a very complex communication system that includes a variety of vocalisations, but also facial expressions and gestures.Ammie Kalan, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

According to researchers, instead of discussing the merits of the latest Seattle Seahawks football game, these Taï Forest chimpanzees prefer to discuss the whereabouts of certain trees that bear particularly tasty fruits. They’ve also been documented discussing the size and location of trees and the amount of available fruit to be had.

“How much it resembles human language is still a matter of debate,” continues Kalan, “but at the very least, research shows that chimpanzees use vocalisations in a sophisticated manner, taking into account their social and environmental surroundings.”

After spending nearly 750 hours studying the noises and sounds the chimpanzees made in the wild about their food, the researchers were able to isolated a range of intonations that are associated with the size of trees and the types of fruits in discussion.

Nauclea_orientalisFor example, when chimps exchange information about the highly coveted Nauclea fruit, they produce higher pitched calls. Also, the smaller the tree, the higher the pitch. And for that particularly abundant fruit bearing tree, the chimps give salaciously low pitched calls that would make even the late Lauren Bacall feel jealous.

I never tried these fruits myself, but they do smell very good in the forest. They are also quite big and easy to ingest, and we also know that they have a high energy content, which is important for wild animals.Ammie Kalan, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

While more research is needed to confirm and further validate these findings, you can bet there’s something real going on among one of our closest genetic relatives when humans are not around. For more information, check out the study as published in the journal Animal Behaviour.

(Featured image from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes)

About Author

Kristian strives to enlighten and entertain readers. In addition to his teaching and editorial responsibilities, he is working on a science-fiction novel that promises not to include exoskeleton suits and anemic aliens floating in mysterious vats of green-tinted goop.

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