Gorillas have long been studied by scientists ever since we discovered the process of evolution. Now, researchers have found that certain mountain gorillas like to “sing” during their dinner, a behavior that’s never been observed before from the species. The group of researchers were able to capture footage of this weird ritual using a robot “spy” that was designed to look like a baby gorilla.
The “singing gorillas” made their television debut this week as a part of the PBS special “Nature: Spy in the Wild 2.” This was the second installment of the “Spy in the Wild” series from PBS, and like its 2017 predecessor, this special gave audiences an intimate insight into “elusive wildlife behavior, seen through the eyes of robots that look like the creatures they film.” Gorillas weren’t included in the original installment of the series, so researchers were astounded to see how much the robot gorilla captured on film; including an intense amount of interaction with the “baby” from the other gorillas.
Scientists in 2016 obtained an audio recording of mountain gorillas “singing” as they eat, but they’ve never had an actual visual of the behavior the gorillas are exhibiting while singing. What they learned back then was that older gorillas were always more inclined to perform at dinnertime, while younger gorillas observed.
Those scientists also were able to derive that males sang more often than females, and only performed while eating aquatic plants and seeds, as opposed to insects. After those conclusions, scientists hit a dead end in terms of where to go next, since they only had an audio recording to work off of. It was this research, amongst other things, that inspired the team from PBS to include gorillas in the next installment of their “Spy in the Wild” series.
“Eye communication is very important amongst gorillas. You’ll see in the footage in the first episode; the gorillas came straight over to our spy gorilla and peered right into its eyes. So we made sure that the gorilla had the most amount of detail put into the face. We sometimes have to anoint them in feces to allow them to be accepted into the group, it’s not the most pleasant of jobs,” said “Spy in the Wild 2” producer Matt Gordon.
The hardest challenge, according to Gordon, was getting the gorilla robot to pass an inspection from one of the dominant males in the gorilla troop. To display submissiveness, Gordon and his team had the robot avoid any “eye contact” with the male, which convinced him that the young gorilla robot wasn’t a threat, which led to the rest of the troop coming to take a closer look at the baby.
“A young gorilla came over and did the natural thing for him, which was to beat its chest. For a baby gorilla, that means ‘I want to play,’ and if our gorilla was lifeless, not moving, I think the gorilla would have lost interest. But our spy gorilla was able to beat its chest too,” Gordon said.
Other episodes within the “Spy In the Wild 2” series follow groups of seals in South Africa, polar bears in Norway, and even tiny hummingbirds in Mexico. New episodes air on Wednesdays, until May 20th, at 8 p.m. on PBS, so check your local listings today!
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.