Study shows how baboons effortlessly transition from walking on all fours to walking on two legs

Scientists have found that despite being quadrupedal, baboons can effortlessly switch from walking on all fours to walking on two legs in less than a second without disturbing their stride.

Researchers have uncovered the mechanism that allows these primates to take an upright stance without skipping a step.

The scientists said their findings, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, suggest that while the ability to walk upright on two legs — known as bipedalism — is one of humanity’s defining physical characteristics, it is not as compelling a feat as previously thought.

Study author Kris D’Aout, of the University of Liverpool, told the PA news agency: “I think one of the biggest conclusions we’ve drawn from all the work that we and other people have done is that it’s probably not as difficult as we think, at least to some extent.

“A few decades ago, we thought we were just bipedal, and so this is something really special.

“But this study on a non-bipedal or uninhabitable biped continues to prove that switching from all fours to two legs is actually quite possible – you don’t have to slow down.”

For their study, the researchers filmed 10 olive baboons of different ages, from infants to mature adults, including both males and females.

An olive monkey transitioning from walking on all fours to two

An olive monkey transitioning from walking on all fours to walking on two legs (Gilles Berillon/Francois Druelle/Journal of Experimental Biology) at the primatology station of the CNRS in France

The researchers used sounds, music, food and mirrors to entice the baboons to walk upright so they could film the movements.

The team then analyzed the videos, breaking down the movement into 15 body parts, including the head, body, arms and legs.

The researchers looked at individual frames to analyze how the entire body moved as each baboon maneuvered into an upright stance in less than a second.

They found that these primates crouch their hind legs and run forward under their bodies when taking two or three steps, keeping the trunk upright when they stand up to walk while maintaining the same speed as they move forward.

“These transitions looked very natural and did not require any special attention or effort from the animal,” said lead author Peter Aerts of the University of Antwerp in Belgium.

The scientists then calculated the energy expended by baboons as they transitioned from quadrupedal to bipedal.

They found that as the animals got older, their energy consumption tripled, but the overall energy cost was still very low.

Mr. D’Aout told PA: “This proves that the prerequisites for habitually bipedalism are present in many animals and that we humans have been using this niche for several million years.

“We got really good at it and were much more efficient and effective than other animals, but the innate ability to be bipedal is something that many animals and all primates have.”

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