It’s unlikely most of us have spent much time observing chimpanzees in the wild. But if you were to take on such a task, you’d notice that male chimps tend to bang on trees.
Scientists have known about the behavior for years and refer to it as “drumming on trees,” though it was always unclear why chimps practiced this.
However, that may be changing thanks to a new study. The study, “The form and function of chimpanzee buttress drumming,” was published in the journal Animal Behaviour in early September.
In the study, researchers concluded that chimpanzees each have their own signature rhythms they drum out on the trees. Indeed, by observing male chimpanzees in Uganda’s Budongo Forest, scientists found that each chimp maintained its rhythm while drumming on trees. The rhythm was random but individualized.
The study authors believe that the chimps use their individual drumming rhythms to communicate who is where.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, Catherine Hobaiter, primatologist and lead study author, said:
“If you hit [the roots] really hard, with a hand or a foot, it resonates and makes this big deep, booming sound that travels through the forest. We could often recognize who was drumming when we heard them; it was a fantastic way to find the different chimpanzees we were looking for. If we could do it, we were sure they could, too.”
In the study, researchers recorded 273 long-distance communications between eight chimpanzees. By observing the communications, researchers were able to determine that the chimps drummed the most when in smaller groups or when traveling, leading them to believe that drumming “might serve to recruit or maintain contact with distant group members.”
On the other hand, when chimps weren’t traveling and wanted to maintain their identities, they hid their unique drumming rhythm.
More research will need to be done to better understand chimpanzee drumming and its intricacies, but the study is a great start at understanding how chimpanzees communicate and use rhythms and beats to aid them.
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