OCT 23, 2018 06:25 PM PDT

Chimpanzees Use Olfaction to Discern One Ape From Another

Several mammals in the animal kingdom use olfaction as a means of identifying one individual from another. Canines are perhaps one of the most notable examples of this behavior, but despite popular belief, it seems that even some non-human primates possess an outstanding sense of smell.

Non-human primates have long been regarded as having a rather poor sense of smell, perhaps because of the lack of research concerning the matter; but an international team of researchers wanted to know more. Their curiosity led them to a study of their own, the results of which have been published this week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

A curious chimpanzee investigates a scent sample provided by researchers.

Image Credit: Stefanie Henkel

The study involved witnessing the reactions of two distinct groups of chimpanzees as researchers presented them with scent samples. Some of these samples allegedly contained traces of urine from members of the same group, while others contained traces of urine from members of the opposing group. As a control, some of the samples didn’t have a scent at all.

Related: Are chimpanzees really as strong as they're made out to be?

The chimpanzees reacted in predictable ways, spending more time sniffing the samples with traces of urine than the control samples. But perhaps more captivatingly, the chimpanzees sniffed the urine samples contracted from the opposing group longer than they did the urine samples collected from their own group.

The results suggest two significant findings: 1) that chimpanzees can discern unfamiliar scents through urine samples, and 2) that chimpanzees have a stronger sense of olfaction than we give them credit for. 

"Chimpanzees are highly territorial, and encounters between groups are mostly hostile—in fact, they sometimes kill individuals from other communities—so olfactory cues might help them to locate other animals and determine whether they are group members or strangers, enhancing their survival and leading to fitness benefits," explained study lead author Stefanie Henkel from the University of Leipzig.

"Odor might be especially important because most chimpanzees live in dense forests where visibility is low, and because in chimpanzee societies, group members split up into subgroups that may not see each other for days."

Related: Do chimpanzee vocalizations have anything in common with human speech?

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Astoundingly, the researchers found that the chimpanzees sniffed even longer at urine samples contracted from their relatives, which suggests how they can discern family members from scent alone.

"The ability to recognize kin is crucial because it allows animals to choose appropriate partners for coalitions, avoid mating with close relatives, and avoid killing their own offspring," explained study co-author Jo Setchell. "Our results help us to understand the evolution of primate chemical communication and suggest that we should pay more attention to olfaction in apes."

Related: Video captures moments of a chimpanzee mother teaching her offspring to use tools

As it would seem, non-human primates are more skilled with their noses than we give them credit for; but more importantly, they use this skill as a means of survival and to communicate with other group members.

The study is a call for additional research on a matter that has seen very little interest in the scientific community. By learning more about these mechanisms, we could hopestart to better understand some of our closest-known relatives in the animal kingdom.

Source: Phys.org, Proceedings of the Royal Society B

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
SEP 18, 2018
Plants & Animals
SEP 18, 2018
Study Investigates Why People Like Bees and Dislike Wasps
Bees and wasps share a lot in common; the clear majority of both sport the familiar black and yellow color scheme, retain unpleasant stingers for self-defe...
OCT 01, 2018
Plants & Animals
OCT 01, 2018
Plants Thicken Their Leaves in Response to High CO2 Levels, and That's Bad
Earth’s plants and animals form a symbiotic relationship. As plants convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into oxygen, animal respiration then turns it...
OCT 22, 2018
Plants & Animals
OCT 22, 2018
Giant Pandas Discern Potential Mates From Their Calls, But Bamboo Forests Don't Help
Many of the world’s wild animals use mating calls to announce their readiness to mate and to find other specimens to hook up with, but curious resear...
OCT 29, 2018
Plants & Animals
OCT 29, 2018
New Evidence for Climate Change-Driven Extinction in Tropical Birds
Climate change is having a profound impact on global animal populations, and as the results of a study published this week in the journal Proceedings of th...
OCT 31, 2018
Plants & Animals
OCT 31, 2018
Study Suggests Extinct Elephant Birds Were Nocturnal and Nearly Blind
Elephant birds were massive birds that went extinct a long time ago. Some estimates suggest the last of the species perished some 500 to 1,000 years ago, b...
NOV 06, 2018
Plants & Animals
NOV 06, 2018
How do Moths Avoid Being Eaten by Bats? The Secret Might Lie in Their 'Fur'
It’s no secret that bats enjoy munching on moths when they’re feeling a bit hungry, but one thing that has always captivated scientists is how...
Loading Comments...