Zannella, A., Stanyon, R., Maglieri, V. et al. 2021. Not all yawns tell the same story: The case of Tonkean macaques. American Journal of Primatology 83(7), e23263.
Here we show for the first time that the plasticity in morphology and duration of yawning in Macaca tonkeana can be associated with different functional contexts. Macaca tonkeana is classified as a tolerant macaque species characterized by social interactions minimally constrained by dominance rank or kinship. Tonkean macaques, as other egalitarian species, rely on a complex facial communicative system. We found that the degree of mouth opening (ranging from covered to uncovered tooth yawns) and the duration of yawning were not strictly dependent. The shortest uncovered tooth yawns were associated with an intense locomotor/physical activity and peaked immediately after stressful social events thus indicating an increase in arousal. In contrast, longer yawns, independently from teeth exposure, were primarily associated with a relaxed state of the subject. In conclusion, our study suggests that to explore the potential different functions of yawning, it is necessary to focus on the variability of its expression both in terms of morphology and duration, because not all yawns tell the same story.