Chimpanzee Communication

July 3, 2009
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Because Chimpanzees have neither a written nor spoken language, they rely solely on body language to communicate with each other. Chimpanzees regularly use at least three distinct methods of body language for communication; facial expressions, calls, and gestures.


This Chimp is now showing the compressed or bulging lip face. This face is used to show aggression, and is used when attacking or performing a charging display. The compressed lip face is not accompanied by any calling.

The Play-Face is shown during play, however, when the game becomes vigorous the upper lip is withdrawn, exposing the upper teeth. This face is generally accompanied by grunting noises that sound similar to laughter.

The open grin face has is shown very excited or frightened. This will happen when something dangerous or important happens in the group, for example, when a high ranking male displays or when confronted with a large amount of bananas. It shows both the upper and lower teeth with the jaw wide open. This face is almost always used in addition to loud screaming.


The closed grin is shown by a chimpanzee who is less excited than one showing an open grin, and closely resembles a human’s nervous smile. It presents both the upper and lower teeth, but a closed jaw. Generally used when a chimpanzee approaches a superior ranking chimpanzee, and is accompanied by soft squeaks, squeals, and whimpers.

The Horizontal pout is used in situations of intense frustration or after a chimpanzee ha been attacked, or when a mother calls to her infant. When making this face the chimp will whimper louder than when showing a closed grin and will make hoo hoo hoo noises at an increasing volume until the source of the frustration is removed.

In a number of instances in the book In The Shadow Of Man, chimps use their complex system of body language to effectively communicate. For example, on page 105, Fifi and Figan were playing with Flint but when his mother Flo came over to retrive her child Figan held up his arms in surrender to show that he was not harming the infant much like a human might. How would Figan have known this was a human gesture? It seems highly unlikely that he had seen a human use it. This shows that chimp body language is similar to human body language, if not made more complicated by their inability to speak.





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