New discovery: orangutan communication

New research reveals that orangutans have a way of amplifying their alarm calls.


Orangutans can appear disconcertingly human. It’s an uncanniness that is now bolstered by the discovery of a remarkably human-like communication technique.

When approached by a predator, orangutans issue what is called a ‘kiss squeak’ alarm call. But biologists in Borneo have noticed that some of the apes place a cupped hand in front of the mouth when making the sound.

In humans, such a gesture is usually employed to keep whispered conversations private. But it seems that, for orangutans, it serves a very different purpose.

The cupped hand makes the kiss-squeak call resonate, so the animal sounds bigger than it actually is.

“No other mammal appears to modify their calls in this way,” said Bart de Boer of the Free University Brussels, who led the research. “It is probably a signal to the predator: ‘Don’t bother stalking me, I have spotted you already!’”

Source: Journal of Experimental Biology


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