Going ape

Malcolm Parkin (Letters, 20 March) is concerned about the cost of scientific research. The research into orangutan vocalisation has already been carried out, and the findings have been published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. It was conducted by a team from the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK, so the funding was shared.

It has provided interesting information. Orangutans sometimes cup their mouths when producing “kiss squeaks”, which are alarm calls that often warn of predators nearby.

Lead researcher Bart de Boer from the University of Brussels, an expert in bioacoustics, explains that this cupping makes the kiss squeak sound as if it’s coming from the puckered lips of a bigger orangutan.

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This suggests orangutans are being economical with the truth, or “lying” about their physical prowess. The researchers think this may indicate a precursor to language – when an animal intentionally changes a sound it makes in order to change its meaning.

We do something similar: we cup our hands around our mouths when we shout into the distance, to amplify the sound and direct it more precisely. Football fans do it to criticise the opposition. Politicians do it during Prime Minister’s Questions.

In fact, if you want to see a perfect demonstration of aggressive, ape-like posturing, just switch on and enjoy the spectacle.

Research can be so rewarding.



Broughty Ferry, Dundee