While many human beings will never be able to effortlessly carry a note like a professional opera singer, apes, on the other hand, have the technique down to a science.
Gibbons are fairly small, slender and nimble compared to other primates, yet they pack a powerful tone. According to a Japanese study, scientists found evidence demonstrating a rare physiological similarity between gibbons and humans.
Lead researcher Takeshi Nishimura, from the Primate Research Institute at Kyoto University, and his team analyzed 20 melodious and loud calls of captive white-handed gibbon in their normal environment. They also observed 37gibbons calls in an environment saturated with helium.
It is known when individuals extract helium from a balloon their voice will become squeaky and high-pitched due to the air pushing resonance frequencies of the vocal tract upwards. Though helium doesn't change the sound of a human's voice, just the pitch, in a gibbon voice it is the total opposite.
In Nishimura's analysis, he stated similar to humans, the source of a gibbon's call occurs in the larynx, separate from the vocal tools used to modify it. The analysis states the gibbons are skilled at controlling the tuning of their vocal cords and tract when singing. A talent that is essential for the subtleties of human speech and something that is mastered by soprano singers.
For gibbons melodic exchanges are essential, because that is how they communicate across the jungle. With melodies, gibbons can communicate as far as one mile.
Nishimura told Live Science, "This is the first evidence that gibbons always sing using soprano techniques, a difficult [vocalization] ability for humans which is only mastered by professional opera singers. This gives us a new appreciation of the evolution of speech in gibbons while revealing that the physiological foundation in human speech is not so unique."