Adult male gorillas call more during feeding than females, juveniles

February 24, 2016
Male silverback Gorilla in SF zoo. Image: Wikipedia.

Gorillas in the wild frequently 'sing' and 'hum' during feeding and adult males call more than their younger or female counterparts, according to a study published February 24th, 2016 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Eva Maria Luef and Simone Pika at the Humboldt Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Germany, and their colleague Thomas Breuer from the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York.

Many mammals and birds vocalize when finding or consuming certain foods. The phenomenon had been studied in chimps and bonobos, but only anecdotal evidence previously existed for gorillas. The authors of this study tracked two wild western lowland gorilla populations in the Republic of Congo, recording and analyzing the 'singing' and 'humming' calls that gorillas of different ages and sexes produced in response to various foods.

They found that adult male gorillas, including the dominant silverbacks, called the most. Females and juveniles were quieter, perhaps to reduce these vulnerable individuals' risk of predation. The researchers only observed 'singing' and humming' calls in association with food, especially while eating aquatic vegetation, flowers, and seeds. The authors suggest that this food-associated calling may be a means of expressing well-being. They also propose that it could aid group coordination and social cohesion. "Similar to the function of food-calls in chimpanzees, gorillas may call to let their group mates know when it is time to finish eating", said Dr. Luef. "Silverback males may have to call more frequently since they are often the ones initiating changes in activity", she further explained.

The researchers only assessed 20 gorillas in the two groups, and did not analyze 'singing' and 'humming' calls separately in relation to specific foods. Nonetheless, they note that their findings provide new insight into the vocal abilities of and may provide new opportunities to investigate the development of vocal communication.

Explore further: Who's your daddy? If you're a gorilla, it doesn't matter

More information: Luef EM, Breuer T, Pika S (2016) Food-Associated Calling in Gorillas (Gorilla g. gorilla) in the Wild. PLoS ONE 11(2): e0144197. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0144197

Related Stories

Who's your daddy? If you're a gorilla, it doesn't matter

June 17, 2015

Being the daddy isn't important for male gorillas when it comes to their relationships with the kids; it's their rank in the group that makes the difference, says new research published in Animal Behaviour. The authors of ...

Odor communication in wild gorillas

July 9, 2014

Silverback gorillas appear to use odor as a form of communication to other gorillas, according to a study published July 9, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Michelle Klailova from University of Stirling, UK, and ...

Mountain gorilla mamas sidestep having inbred offspring

May 20, 2015

Some mountain gorilla females linger into adulthood in the group into which they were born. In the process they also remain in the company of their father, who is often their group's dominant male. To curb inbreeding, though, ...

Bigger gorillas better at attracting mates and raising young

May 1, 2012

Conservationists with the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have found that larger male gorillas living in the rainforests of Congo seem to be more successful than smaller ...

Female birds may have lost desire to sing due to predation

January 13, 2016

(—A trio of biologists has conducted a study of one kind of song bird and their results suggest that the females of the species may have lost the desire to sing out of fear it would lead predators to their nest. ...

Recommended for you

The astonishing efficiency of life

November 17, 2017

All life on earth performs computations – and all computations require energy. From single-celled amoeba to multicellular organisms like humans, one of the most basic biological computations common across life is translation: ...

Unexpected finding solves 40-year old cytoskeleton mystery

November 17, 2017

Scientists have been searching for it for decades: the enzyme that cuts the amino acid tyrosine off an important part of the cell's skeleton. Researchers of the Netherlands Cancer Institute have now identified this mystery ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.