How Mountain Gorillas Communicate : Mountain gorillas are the closest relatives of human beings sharing 96 of their DNA composition with humans, just like Humans Mountain gorillas communicate in a variety ways and these include facial expressions, sounds, postures and gestures. Mountain gorillas stay in the dense forest cover and high altitudes and they use communication primarily as way finding each other in the dense of jungle and notifying fellow gorillas in case of an attack.

A mountain gorilla are known to make at least 22 distinct sounds to communicate different feelings ranging from playful chuckling to frightened screams and even belches of contentment.

In the dense rainforest vegetation where the mountain gorillas cannot see each other, they use mainly use vocalizations as a way of communication and this is done in accordance with their roles in the groups or families. Dominant silverbacks the leaders of the groups / mountain gorilla families are the ones who frequently use vocalization to communicate.

The newly born mountain gorillas use vocalizations such as whimpering, crying and screaming as the most important ways of communication, these babies use crying, whimpering and screaming as a way of attracting the attention of their mothers and as a way to portray their needs.   As soon as baby gorillas start moving away from their mothers, they start using grunting vocalizations as a way of communicating. These sounds are generally classified as grunts and barks and there are many variations and they are the most important vocalizations of the gorillas, the gorilla babies use these vocalizations to indicate their whereabouts to their group members and they usually accompany social interactions.

On the average, an adult mountain gorillas makes 8 vocalizations per hour, these vocalizations are often made while they are traveling. Members of a specific mountain gorilla group easily recognize each other from these vocalizations and sounds.

Mountain gorillas use different ways of communication to display different meanings as follows 

  • Communicate dominance – Mountain gorilla use communication as a way of displaying their dominance among their fellow individuals and gorilla families, the male mountain gorillas use a variety of behaviors and vocalization to communicate their dominance. This can be done as a subtle as slightly moving out of the way of a dominant individual as he or she approaches.
  • To show appeasement – mountain gorillas use a variety of vocalizations to show appeasement, appeasement is often accompanied by a submissive posture like crouching.
  • Show aggressions – mountain gorillas show aggression through showcasing various behaviors such as throwing vegetation, chest beating, strut stances, hitting and kicking.
  • To display their mood – mountain gorillas use body postures and facial expressions as a way of conveying their mood, certain behavior patterns involve certain body postures and requires another animals to do something. Postures in mountain gorillas signal moods or intention to the other partner, postures in mountain gorillas is defined as the true display of behavior in mountain gorillas. They are sometimes used for communication over greater distances.

Mountain gorillas communication through various behaviors, vocalizations, body postures and facial expressions as detailed below

 Play Face (facial expressions)

Mountain gorillas communicate through facial expressions, like human gorillas a mountain gorilla’s face can say it all and it is possible to know the mountain gorilla’s mood through the face. One of the common and distinctive expressions of the mountain gorillas is the play face, the play face consists of an open mouth with low hanging bottom lip and no teeth showing. The juvenile mountain gorillas are the most common individuals to display the play face.

How Mountain Gorillas Communicate
How Mountain Gorillas Communicate

A normal mountain gorilla play face is often paired with as equivalent of laughter.

“Smiling” and Yawning

Mountain gorillas occasionally communicate through smiling and yawning, this kind of communication is used as a sign of submission or appeasement. Communicating through smiling and yawning is related to the origins of human smiling, the gorilla communicate in a couple of different ways by showing their teeth. One of these is being bared-teeth where the mouth is open and both rows of the teeth are showing.

Mountain gorillas use smiling to show submission or appeasement, male mountain gorillas particularly reveal their yawns. The yarning is believed to occur when the males are distressed or anxious, yarns generally serve as a warning sign and display of dominance.


Mountain gorillas use different vocalizations as a way of communicating alarm, distress, aggression, contentment and group coordination, one of the most frequent vocalizations used by the mountain gorillas to communicate is the belch. The belch vocalization is used to communicate/covey a sense of contentment between the mountain gorillas.

Other forms of vocalizations used by the mountain gorillas to communicate include humming and singing, mountain gorillas usually hum or sing as a way of conveying content of finding a highly preferred food and this usually involves several individuals or the whole gorilla family or group at the same time.

Chest Beat

Chest beat is the most iconic and most well known way how the mountain gorillas communicate, a chest beat conveys various meaning and the common known is being in times of aggression in male mountain gorillas.

The style of communication is done through beating the chest with open palms, the male mountain gorillas have large air sacs located in their chests and these help in carrying the sound over long distances, the younger mountain gorillas commonly use chest beats while they are playing.

Mountain gorillas’ senses resembles those of human beings, the gorillas use all their senses in their communication wit conspecifics. In addition to hearing and seeing, the gorillas also use touching and smelling in their communication. Silverbacks males have a characteristic smell, in dangerous situations they emit a very specific scent which can be smell by fellow group members from meters away. The emitted scent is used to alarm the group without any noise.


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