The form and function of chimpanzee buttress drumming

Vesta Eleuteri, Matthew Henderson, Adrian Soldati, Gal Badihi, Klaus Zuberbühler, Cat Hobaiter*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Many animal species use vocal and nonvocal acoustic signals to communicate over large distances. Wild chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes, drum on the buttress roots of trees, generating low-frequency sounds that can reach distances of over 1 km. Buttress drumming is produced in bouts of beats and is often accompanied by pant hoots, the species-typical long-distance vocalization. We investigated whether individual differences exist in the acoustic structure of drumming bouts produced by male chimpanzees of the Waibira community in the Budongo Forest in Uganda, and whether individual, contextual and social factors affected their use of drumming. We found individual differences in drumming bouts produced by seven male chimpanzees during travel events as well as in their timing within the pant hoot, and discriminated specific patterns of beats for some chimpanzees. In contrast, we found no evidence for individual differences in the acoustic structure of drumming bouts produced by four males during displays. Together these findings suggest that chimpanzees may be able to choose to encode identity within individual drumming ‘signatures’. Chimpanzees drummed less frequently as their party size increased. We found no evidence that the age of the signaller or the presence of preferred social partners, higher-ranking males or females in oestrus affected the use of drumming. These findings suggest there may be flexibility in buttress drumming across social and behavioural contexts and provide support for the hypothesis that, by encoding individual identity, long-distance drumming may be used to facilitate chimpanzee fission–fusion social dynamics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)189-205
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Early online date16 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022


  • Long-distance communication
  • Nonvocal acoustic signal
  • Pan troglodytes
  • Primate communication
  • Signature


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