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A recent study has discovered that young great apes enjoy provoking and irritating their older counterparts.
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A recent study has discovered that young great apes enjoy provoking and irritating their older counterparts.

Videos of primates have shown that humans are not the sole recipients of prolonged teasing from their smaller and weaker offspring, who seem determined to test their boundaries.

Studies of chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos, and gorillas have revealed that these animals are skilled at engaging in a variety of playful and sometimes aggressive behaviors, from mischievous and silly actions to highly annoying ones.

Scientists recorded 142 instances of great apes teasing each other in footage taken at San Diego and Leipzig zoos, which totaled 75 hours. Most of these instances were initiated by young apes between the ages of three and five.

Juvenile orangutan pulling mother's hair.

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The primates poked, prodded, and quickly retreated. They presented items and then snatched them back, forcefully collided with each other, invaded each other’s personal space, tugged on strands of hair – a behavior often seen in orangutans due to their long hair – pulled on body parts, playfully tickled, and dangled objects in front of one another.

This was just the beginning. In total, the scientists in Germany and the United States identified 18 unique forms of teasing in the videos. Over 20% involved an unexpected aspect, such as an ape sneaking up on its target from behind or when it was not paying attention.

According to Dr. Isabelle Laumer from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Konstanz, Germany, it is difficult to determine the exact reason for their actions, but we can see that they are engaging in them. This playful teasing is deliberate and often only involves one person, with the teaser being the main instigator and maintaining control throughout the interaction.

As with all the best teasing, a failure to respond to an unexpected poke, or an ape’s face suddenly looming into view, was met with more of the same, with apes repeating their chosen move in 84% of cases or escalating the situation with more elaborate acts of annoyance.

Unfortunately, the sample size of the study, consisting of nine bonobos, four orangutans, four gorillas, and 17 chimps, was too limited to uncover significant variations among the species. However, it was observed that adults and juveniles utilized different methods for teasing. The most prevalent method for both groups was poking, but juveniles also resorted to hitting and waving body parts, whereas adults displayed gentler behaviors such as tickling and stealing.

Laumer stated that they discovered parallels between the teasing behavior of human infants and that of great apes. Just like human infants, these apes also seek a reaction from their mothers by looking at their faces.

Infants as young as eight months old participate in playful teasing even before they can speak. Researchers suggest that this behavior may serve to assess social limits and enhance relationships.

According to a study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, juvenile apes primarily targeted adult individuals but typically refrained from harming their own parents. However, there were a few exceptions. Denny, a gorilla, would frequently tease his parents, possibly due to the limited number of other gorillas around. Similarly, Aisha, an orangutan, became adept at swinging a rope at her father’s face while he was occupied with his own tasks.

It will require further observation to comprehend the reasons behind animals teasing each other. However, based on the behavior observed in our primate relatives, it is possible that teasing and the cognitive abilities involved originated 13 million years ago from the shared ancestor of humans and modern apes, according to Laumer.

According to Dr. Marina Davila-Ross, who researches communication evolution at the University of Portsmouth, teasing has been examined in connection with humor, but it also plays a role in comprehending social relationships. For example, when a young ape teases another and receives no reaction, it indicates to the first ape the limits of their interactions with the second ape. This provides crucial insights into navigating social dynamics and establishing hierarchies within a social group.

Source: theguardian.com