The shocking, real reason why gorillas pound their chests
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They beat their chest so they won’t have to beat your butt.
The image of King Kong beating his chest might seem like the ultimate threat display. However, German scientists have discovered that gorillas thump their sternums to avoid — rather than instigate — a fight.
Specifically, pec-pounding advertises the primate’s size, fighting prowess and other practical info, providing rivals a picture of what they’d be up against if they chose to throw down, National Geographic reported.
“We found it is definitely a real, reliable signal — males are conveying their true size,” Edward Wright, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, told the Guardian. He co-authored the percussive study published Thursday in “Scientific Reports.”
Many have speculated that gorillas communicate size through moob-banging, but “there had been no data to support this claim,” according to Roberta Salmi, director of the University of Georgia’s Primate Behavioral Ecology Lab.
To prove their titillating theory, Wright and his team spent 3,000 hours studying endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, National Geographic reported.
They used audio equipment to record chest-beat sound frequencies, number and duration of each display in six animals between November 2015 and July 2016. They then compared these variables to the size of the specimens, which were gauged by analyzing photos of the beasts.
The researchers found that bigger gorillas produced lower frequencies than their smaller counterparts, signifying that pectoral percussion was an “honest signal of competitive ability” and size, rather than an exaggerated threat display, per the study. Think a UFC fighter listing their stats vs. a drunkard puffing up their chest at the bar.
‘These are large, powerful animals that can do a lot of damage.’
As larger body size correlated to higher social rank — and therefore fighting ability — scientists deduced that conveying it through chest-beating could help gorillas avoid violence — a must in a species that grows up to 500 pounds.
“Even if you’re likely to win a fight, there is still quite a high risk factor,” explained Wright. “These are large, powerful animals that can do a lot of damage.”
“Quite often it is all about the chest beat and then they don’t fight,” he said, adding that punier gorillas might be deterred by a bigger silverback, whose slapping bass beat is likely caused by their larger larynx sacks. By the same token, an alpha Mighty Joe Young may hear a beta ape’s drum solo and decide they’re too small to monkey with.
Along with sizing up rivals, chest-pounding also could be used to attract mates, according to the research.
The next step is figuring out how other gorillas translate the language of chest-whacking.
“It will be very interesting to see how hearing chest beats in their environments might affect their movements and decision-making as to which areas of their home range to use,” said Salmi.
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