Orangutans use slang to show off their coolness

(ORDO NEWS) — Studies conducted among wild monkey communities in Borneo and Sumatra have shown that primates are able to invent and spread new alarm calls that are quickly picked up by certain groups of their relatives. An article about this was published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

An international group of primatologists has found that signals that were previously considered innate and once “programmed” are actually invented by the orangutans themselves, who vary them from time to time and produce new versions of calls that differ in height and duration, as if introducing into circulation “slang words”.

Moreover, the frequency of occurrence of new signals and whether they will be assimilated by other members of the community is directly affected by the density of the local population of monkeys.

“It has been observed that low-density orangutans have a small slang repertoire that they constantly revisit and use.

They are moderately conservative, but as soon as a new version of the signal is applied and everyone hears it, it quickly turns into circulation, enriching the slang, explains the lead author of the article Adriano Lameira from the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick in the UK.

In conditions of high density of orangutan communities, their communication is more like a cacophony – in this case, the “turnover” of new options is very high. And it seems that novelty in any case is at a premium, just like with songbirds or human youth, who vying with each other trying to show their coolness and non-conformism.

It has been previously observed that social relationships of this kind play a large part in the communication of a great many animals, including songbirds and marmosets, and this is probably also important for great apes and other higher primates.

The authors of the study report that they spent 6,120 hours observing monkeys at six research stations between 2005 and 2010; they were able to record alarm sounds from about 70 individuals.

At times, different communities of orangutans gave rise to the same new variations of calls, but there was no direct exchange of “experiences” between these populations, since they lived very far from each other.


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