A recent study, published in Scientific Reports, shows that bears, at least one species in particular, are capable of imitating the facial expressions of other bears, a quality that casts doubt on the supremacy of humans and other primates.
In fact, it is the first time that an exact facial mimicry has been observed outside humans and gorillas. A facial mimicry is when one animal responds to the facial expression of another with the same or similar expression.
The investigation, led by Marina Davila-Ross, has focused on the Malayan bear (Helarctos malayanus). The Davila-Ross team studied 22 of these animals native to Southeast Asia, during spontaneous play sessions over more than two years. The Malaysian bears are a solitary species, but at the same time very playful, they measure between 120 and 150 cm in height and weigh up to 80 kg. They are currently an endangered species.
The results showed that bears can use facial expressions to communicate with others in a manner similar to humans, suggesting that other mammals may also possess this complex ability and, in addition, have a degree of social sensitivity.
"To imitate the facial expressions of others in an exact way - explains Davila-Ross in a statement - is one of the pillars of human communication. It is known that other primates and dogs imitate each other, but only the great apes and humans, and now the Malaysian bears, showed such a high complexity in facial mimicry. Due to this complexity and the fact of not having a special evolutionary link with humans, we are sure that this more advanced form of mimicry is present in other species, however, this needs to be further investigated. The most surprising thing is that the Malay bear is not a social animal. In nature, it is a relatively solitary animal, so it is suggested that the ability to communicate through complex facial expressions could be a generalized trait in mammals that allows them to deal better with their peers. "