Animals #6: The Intelligent Chimp


Credit: BBC Earth

At the Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire, England we’re going to look at chimpanzees. The basis of the video is the communication between chimps which is mainly non-verbal and consists of gestures and facial expressions. Dr. Katja Liebal is studying the chimps in the video and hopes to write up the first chimp dictionary on their non-verbal language. The gestures featured are faces for fear and playfulness, tapping on the shoulder (it means I’m sorry), displays of power, pouting face (I’m hungry), grooming (I’m your friend) pretending to bite (having fun) and at the end extending their arm outward (I want food). The interesting aspect about their language is that they can experiment with it, inventing new words or expressing emotions differently. This is similar to human languages which continually invent new words and pronounce established words differently. 

Credit: BBC Earth
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Chimpanzees are capable of more than just a unique mode of communication. They can also trade. Researchers here are shown working with the chimpanzee Panzee and teaching her the value of trading by associating different tokens with foods she likes or doesn’t. She goes back and forth from them on different sides of the cage, picking a token and then trading it in for a different food item (bananas, oranges, M&Ms) on the other side. By the end she is able to understand which tokens will buy her what she wants. They then ask the question, “Do chimpanzees trade amongst themselves?” At Twycross Zoo, Dr. Liebal from the first video observes this behavior from a chimpanzee, seemingly showing that they do trade, drawing a similarity between humans and chimps that you may not have known about before.  



Credit: Henry Vilas Zoo Madison

This is just a video of a gibbon taking care of a baby squirrel just like if it was one of its own children. Gibbons are separated from the great apes, smaller and exhibit less sexual dimorphism (males and females look more similar). They also have beautiful fur. 


While tending her bees, Dr. Federica Bertocchini noticed some pesky waxworms (a type of caterpillar). She is no ordinary beekeeper; she is a researcher at Spain’s IBBTEC institute and specializes in biology. These waxworms rip up beehives, chewing through the delicious wax which, as well all know, has a decent honey aftertaste. In order to clean out the hives she put the caterpillars into a plastic bag and when she came back later they had escaped by chewing though the bag. Not content to let the observation go to waste she observed that they were able to chew holes through plastic in 40 minutes and tore up the bag in a few hours. After this she mashed them into a paste and spread it onto the plastic which partially degraded in half a day. She then went to two biochemists and even they were able to confirm that the plastic was degraded by the caterpillars. Then there is some back and forth in the usefulness of deploying a plastic devouring caterpillar army which Dr. Bertocchini responds to with the idea of synthesizing the enzymes that they use to eat up all that juicy trash. Further research will be required in order to test any hypothesis out but at least now there is another contender in the field of bioremediation to aid our world in decreasing the ever piling onslaught of our convenience driven society.


Have you ever seen an albino giraffe? This one is named Omo and lives in the Tarangire National Park, Tanzania. She was named after a local detergent and is actually alive past when they expected her to be. There are plenty of predators in the park and she doesn’t exactly blend in. She’s not really as an albino as she has a condition called leucism which reduces the level of multiple types of pigments and results in a partial discoloration.

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