|We aren't talking “guerilla warfare” here, but gorilla “play-fair!"|
To Learn Social Etiquette and to Settle Scores, Gorillas Play a Simple Children's Game of “Tag”
There may be no game simpler than tag. To play, you need nothing but a few friends and some energy. In fact, tag is so easy to play that it reaches other primate species: Gorillas like to play, too.
Marina Davila Ross and colleagues spent three years watching and filming gorilla colonies at Germany and Swiss zoos for a study now out in Biology Letters. They shot footage of 21 different young gorillas goofing around in a game that resembles human children playing tag.
Like human tag, one gorilla runs up to another and taps, hits, or outright punches the second. The hitter then usually runs away, attempting to avoid being hit back. Davila Ross and her colleagues also noticed that, like kids, the gorillas would reverse roles, so sometimes the first hitter would be the tagger, and vice versa. All African great apes appear to play tag, and younger apes play it much more often than their elders. Tree-dwelling orangutans likely also play a similar game, but not on the ground, according to Davila Ross in Discovery News.
The game is thought to prepare gorillas for conflicts that might arise over food or mates. “This kind of playful behaviour lets them test their group members and learn what the borders are,” she added. “How far you can go with an individual is important for social interactions later in life.”
“It remains unknown to what extent unequal play itself gives animals a more competitive edge,” the scientists write. But while further research will attack that question, one thing is clear: Humans probably wouldn’t fare well in an inter-species game of tag, as we wouldn’t describe the force with which they strike one another as 'playful.’”