Silverback Gorillas Use Smell To Communicate

Silverback gorillas appear to use odour as a form of communication to other gorillas, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

The chemical sense is the oldest sense, shared by all organisms including bacteria, and mounting evidence suggests that people also react to smells socially.

However, not much is known about this type of signalling in closely related hominids such as wild apes.

To better understand chemical-communication in apes, Michelle Klailova from University of Stirling, UK, and colleagues analysed odour strength in relation to arousal levels in a wild group of western lowland gorillas in the Central African Republic, focusing on the male silverback, the mature leader of the group.

The scientists used a human scale for pungency and found extreme smells for danger and quiet smells for other communication.

According to the results of the study, the male silverback may use odour as a modifiable form of social communication, where context-specific chemical signals may moderate the social behaviours of other gorillas.

The authors suggest that odour communication between apes may be especially useful in Central African forests, where limited visibility may necessitate increased reliance on other senses.

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