Known as the smallest of the world’s eight bear species, sun bears spend most of their time alone, looking for fruits, rodent, birds, and insects in the Southeast Asian tropical forests when it is not mating season.

Though considered as solitary animals, scientists discovered that they actually possess a complex social skill that makes them relate more with human beings, thanks to their ability to mimic another bear’s facial expression as a form of their own way of communicating with others.

22 sun bears at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center in Malaysia were studied and observed by a group of researchers. The bears played in the outdoor forest enclosures, which was big enough for them to either interact with one another or not at all.

Researchers saw the bears mimicking the facial expressions of the other bears while they were playing, copying not only others’ expressions, but also their specific muscular movements, such as raising their noses and wrinkling the bridge of their muzzles, according to a report by Reuters.

“It seems that some forms of communication are much more widely shared amongst mammalian species than we previously thought,” Derry Taylor, a comparative psychology PhD student at the University of Portsmouth in England and lead author of the study on sun bear’s facial mimicry that has been published in the journal Scientific Reports, told Reuters.

The findings surprised the researchers, because as to what have been said before, sun bears were known as solitary beings and are not known to be closely related to humans.

Gorillas are the only other species that have a high degree of precision on complex facial mimicry, and they are known to be closely related to the human species.

Taylor added that conducting a more thorough study could prove what messages were the bears sharing with one another, but he believes their facial mimicry could signal “a readiness to transition from gentle to rougher play.”

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