Why pay to hear a soprano sing at Paris Opéra, New York's Metropolitan or La Scala in Milan? A bunch of monkeys can do it just as well.
Gibbons, small jungle-dwelling apes, use the same technique as an opera singer to project their songs through the forests of southeast Asia, reports Reuters. Researchers gave the gibbons helium to breathe and studied its effect on their calls, which resemble high pitched "songs", to find clues about how their vocal system works.
New Scientist reports that Takeshi Nishimura of Kyoto University in Aichi, Japan, and colleagues recorded the calls of a captive white-handed gibbon (Hylobates lar) – first in normal air, and then in air that contained varying degrees of oxygen, nitrogen and helium.
The result gave researchers evidence that apes use similar techniques as human singers to call to each other.
When the gibbon was breathing helium, New Scientist reports, the fundamental frequency of the ape's calls was unchanged, suggesting it was produced independently of her vocal tract.
Professional sopranos are able to maintain their volume when they hit the high notes by adjusting the shape of their vocal tract, including the mouth and tongue, reports The Daily Mail.
The fact that gibbons can also do that when breathing helium suggests the complexity of human speech may not have needed specific modifications in vocal anatomy.
Gibbons' loud calls are used to communicate with each other and can carry over a mile across dense jungle.
Now that we know apes can sing, the next all-gibbon performance of Madama Butterfly is a YouTube video waiting to happen.