for National Geographic News
A little higher Oh, yeah, that's the spot.
Sure, you might expect that from an itchy-backed significant other. But from a chimp?
In Africa scientists recently observed 249 grooming sessions among pairs of male chimpanzees at Uganda's Kibale National Park.
In 40 percent of the interactions the chimps used what the researchers call "directed scratches"noisy, exaggerated rubbing movements done within sight of the partnerto request grooming of specific areas on the body.
After seeing these gestures, the groomer dropped everything and got to work on the indicated spot 64 percent of the time.
The findings appear in this week's issue of the journal Current Biology.
Another Barrier Falls?
The scientists say this practice marks one of the first times nonhuman animals have shown the ability to infer the mindset of others. Pointing at something and expecting a specific response was once considered beyond the abilities of nonhuman primates in the wild.
"Many animals know a lot about themselves and the world around them," said John Mitani, an anthropologist from the University of Michigan who observed the chimps.
"Here we have a behavior which seemingly suggests they're directing the attention of another individual to a certain spot of their body, suggesting that the recipient of the signal is able to infer the meaning of that," Mitani said.
Mitanialong with Simone Pika, a psychologist from the University of St. Andrews in Scotlandchose to watch male chimps, because they groom each other more often than females do.
The "scratch here" behavior cropped up frequently among dominant males, probably because they form the strongest social bonds, Mitani says.
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