Summer 2016

Call and response

Photo by alex wilkinson photography

When chimpanzees pant-hoot, Michael Wilson listens. A recent recipient of a Talle Faculty Research Award, Wilson spent three weeks in Tanzania this summer recording and analyzing the loud calls—called pant-hoots—that chimpanzees make in certain situations, such as when they’re arriving at fruit trees or traveling.

By comparing pant-hoots from various communities of chimpanzees, he’s learning whether these groups have distinct dialects, in the same way people from Boston may speak differently than those from Dallas. The existence of dialects would suggest that chimpanzees have some capacity for “vocal learning,” or learning different vocalizations.

Facts about pant-hooting

  • The pant-hoot is a loud call that can be heard over a mile away in dense forest.
  • Evidence for dialects in chimpanzees is intriguing, but the regional differences  in pant-hoots are quite subtle compared to the differences in some other animals known to have vocal learning, such as songbirds and humpback whales.
  • High-ranking adult males pant-hoot most frequently. Females sometimes pant-hoot on their own and often join in when others are calling.