New Study Says Gorillas Are 'Singing' And 'Humming' In The Wild

Science reveals tuneful side of our favorite apes.

For centuries, singing and eating have gone hand-in-hand in countless traditions. From Christmas dinner and Shabbat to Native American traditions in the Americas. 

But a new study published in PLOS One has made an astounding claim: apparently, humans aren't the only primates who sing and eat. Gorillas do it too. According to researchers Eva Maria Luef, Thomas Breuer, and Simone Pika, gorillas have been found "singing" and "humming" while they are enjoying their latest meal.

The researchers followed two free-ranging groups of western lowland gorillas and found that the primates' calls varied depending on what kind of meal they were eating. The scientists believe this finding could offer clues to the evolution of human language. 

"Food-associated vocalizations in great apes can offer new opportunities to investigate the phylogenetic development of vocal communication within the primate lineage and can possibly contribute novel insights into the origins of human language," the authors note in the journal article.

If you're wondering how we could have not know this before — well, zoologists had noticed apes "singing" together at feeding time in captivity, but typically that involved every gorilla in a group participating. In the wild, it's almost always one or two "lead" gorillas, and the tunes are so quiet that they're hard to get on tape.

"The food-associated calls of gorillas are rather quiet and recordings are easily corrupted by forest noises," Luef and Breuer noted. "Individuals often brushed up against vegetation or moved on dry leaves while eating, causing loud interference noises, or they would turn their backs to the microphone."

While vocal calls are common among certain mammals and birds, this research was the first to solidify what had previously only been anecdotal evidence. 

Cover photo: Scott Olson / Staff

Here is some footage (not from the study) of gorillas singing before they eat: