Chimpanzees don’t say goodbye because they keep in touch through drum beats

Chimpanzees have their own drumming style. Some are much wilder than others, scientists have discovered when observing chimpanzees in a Ugandan rainforest where the males have developed their own signature drumbeat. They always use the same sort of tree species it seems with wide, flat, exposed roots (buttress roots) which allows the sound to be amplified. I inevitably see reference to males drumming and not females. I wonder if there is something in this. It might be due to the more submissive nature of the females who prefer to keep quiet and not advertise their location.

Chimp drumming
Chimp drumming. Photo: Adrian Soldati from the University of St Andrews.

The scientists discovered that they only use their personalised drumming when on the move. And they decide to use this method of communication if they want to be identified. In fact, the researchers said that: “We could often recognise who was drumming when we heard them, and it was a fantastic way to find the different chimpanzees we were looking for.”

They had been unsure as to why chimpanzees greet each other when they meet up but don’t to say goodbye when they go their own way in the forest but it is now believed that this is because they are not going to be apart as they are able to communicate over long distances using drum beats. The drumming is interspersed with their “pant-hoot” calls to exchange messages within a group through the dense forest. They say that the sound can carry for more than a kilometer.

The drumming helps individuals to check in with the others to tell them where they are and that they are alive and well, I guess. They use both feet and hands.

The researchers from the University of St Andrews say that one chimp sounded a bit like the late John Bonham, Led Zeppelin’s light-wristed drummer who played on the group’s track Whole Lotta Love, who is ranked as one of the best. The lead author of the study, Vesta Eleuteri, said of the chimp that “His drumming is so fast you can barely see his hands.”

The study has been published in the journal Animal Behaviour.

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