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article imageGorillas use scent to communicate with others

By Tim Sandle     Jul 21, 2014 in Science
Gorillas use the emission of an odor to communicate, a new study finds. Odor changes based on the relationship of the animal putting out that scent and the one smelling it can signal different emotions.
To study scent communication in wild western lowland gorillas, a team of researchers followed the Makumba gorilla group in the Bai Hokou Primate Habituation Camp in the Central African Republic for all of 2007. This group is named for its silverback, Makumba, and in 2007 also contained three adult females, two sub-adults, one blackback (an adult male), four juveniles and two infants, plus one baby that was born at the end of the year.
Over a 12- month period the researchers recorded the scent of the silverback based on a “human pungency scale.” No odor was given a zero. A light scent, no stronger than the surrounding vegetation, ranked a one. A smell stronger than vegetation got a two, while an extreme odor that drowned out everything else was considered a three. Two humans had to rank an odor to be certain that the smell really was as light or heavy as each perceived it.
Having collated their data, the researchers then matched up the scent rankings with records of the gorillas’ relationships, activity and auditory signals. This covered everything from belches and barks to ground-slapping and chest-beating.
Science News notes that the silverback reeked strong odor in four different situations: when he was making sounds of distress or anger, when the group encountered another group of gorillas, when the mother of the group’s youngest infant (along with the baby) were far away and when the silverback was making “long-calling signals.” Long-calling signals are used for communicating over large distances and with gorillas outside the group.
It appears that this type of communication is important for animals that live in forests, where the lead male can easily lose track of group members wandering nearby to search for food.
The research has been published in the journal PLoS One, in a paper titled “Wild Western Lowland Gorillas Signal Selectively Using Odor.”
More about Gorillas, Scent, Communication, Sign language, Monkeys
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