What do Bonobos Sound Like?
Bonobos are the most vocal of the great apes, using their voices extensively to express themselves and to communicate with others. Bonobo voices tend to be relatively high-pitched and melodic, in contrast to the lower and more guttural “pant hoots” of chimpanzees. There is not just one signature bonobo sound; they have a variety of different vocalizations for different situations. Listen to these examples of typical bonobo calls:
- High hoot
- The high hoot or “waah” is a very common call used for both short- and long-distance communication. It can be used to communicate between feeding parties, to call bonobos that have been separated, or to signal that they have found something good to eat.
- Food calls
- There are around five different types of food calls that bonobos combine into long sequences, expressing their satisfaction about what they are eating. These food calls often attract other bonobos to join them at the food patch. The more they like the food, the higher-pitched their squeals of delight become, as if to say, “mmm, this tastes good!”
- Travel calls
- Bonobos make these characteristic little peeps while traveling. Groups of bonobos separate into smaller parties during the day to forage for food. These calls help keep the party together, and ensure that no one gets lost or left behind. Bonobos sometimes walk bipedally (on two legs), like humans do.
- Alarm and alert
- Watch out! Bonobos make these alarm calls when they are frightened by potentially dangerous events. A loud noise, such as a tree falling in the forest, or a scary animal, like a snake, can trigger an alarm call. Bonobos may also make these calls when observing or participating in a fight.
- Threat barks and anger calls
- During little disputes, sometimes the aggressor or an onlooker will make these shrill barks to signal discontent. Bonobos may also make these noises if they feel another bonobo is too close or is doing something to bother them.
- Conflict screams
- These are the screams of bonobos after a fight. There are different screams based on the severity of the conflict. There are also tantrum screams, given by young individuals. Bonobos tend to be rather sensitive, so they sometimes react loudly to relatively minor situations.
- Male contest hoots
- Males use this vocalization to demonstrate their force and to show off to other individuals. While using this call, it is common for a male to drag a branch or shake a tree to make himself seem impressive.
- Just like humans, bonobos laugh when they are enjoying themselves. They laugh when they play, and they also laugh when they are tickled!
Recordings and descriptions provided by Zanna Clay, PhD