Chimpanzee Facial Expressions Explained

Chimpanzees have highly developed methods of communication, including gestural movements and vocalizations. Because chimpanzees do not have a spoken language like humans do, they also rely heavily on facial expressions to communicate, and their hairless faces allow for a wide variety of expressions to be easily recognized. However, their facial expressions are very different than ours. Read more below to learn about how our caregivers distinguish the chimpanzees’ moods simply by looking at them!

PLAYFUL

Playful - Jackson (with name)

This is a PLAY FACE! A chimp will open their mouth wide and show their lower teeth only. Showing your top teeth can be a sign of anger. Sometimes, Jackson shakes his head while making a play face. CJ Jackson - Playtime (with name)   Chimps tend to keep a PLAY FACE on the entire time they are playing. They laugh in a wheezy, chuckling, high-pitched way: “Hee huh hee huh!” Though their mouths are open, gums are not visible, unlike an aggressive expression.

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FRIENDLY

Friendly - Patti (with name) This facial expression is often accompanied with the vocalization “Hoo-Oooh-Ooh-Ooh!”, a friendly greeting and social behavior. Chimps put their lips together and let out a “Hooo!” They breathe in noisily and repeat over and over again!

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FEAR GRIMACE

Grimace - Maggie (with name) Maggie may look like she is smiling but this expression is known as a fear grimace. Notice that all teeth are showing, as if she is threatening to use them. The teeth are together, though the lips are opened wide. You may also notice that the pupils become very small during a fear grimace. This facial expression is often confused for a smile since it looks so much like a human smile. Unfortunately, chimps in the entertainment and pet industries are often forced to make this facial expression when performing or posing for a picture.

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CALM

Comfortable - Patti (with name) When a chimp is sitting calmly with its lower lip hanging loosely, they are showing that they are relaxed and comfortable. If a chimp does this around you, take it as a compliment!

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BORED

Bored - Topo (with name) You get bored, don’t you? So do chimps! When Topo looks like this he might like some company or new enrichment to play with. He may also just be deep in thought.

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EXCITED

Excited - Herbie (with name) An exciting event is often accompanied by a PANT HOOT. You might hear this around meal time or when particularly good treats are on the way.