Surfing The Wierd

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Chimps Use Tools - Have Culture

Chimps use tools: Breaking into a bee hive for honey >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Researchers See How Chimps Use Tools

Researchers See How Chimpanzees Use Tools

Yes, we know they're cute, and, yes, we knew they were smart. But new research shows African chimpanzees to be smarter than anyone thought.

It has long been known that they use sticks as crude tools — but now there is proof that they switch tools, something that had never been seen before. Scientists say that is a remarkably advanced concept for a primate.

"An analogy is, say, a human goes into the garage and picks, among a set of screwdrivers, a flathead instead of a Phillips head," said Augustin Fuentes, an associate professor of anthropology at Notre Dame. "This shows us that chimpanzees are incredibly intelligent, incredibly cognizant of their surroundings, and do very complex things."

Chimps Carrying Tool Sets

With sponsorship from the National Geographic Society and New York's Wildlife Conservation Society, a team of researchers went to the Goualougo Triangle, a remote forest in the Republic of Congo.

There, they set up remote-controlled video cameras and left them running for six months.

The chimps learned to ignore them — and went on to the much more interesting business of catching termites for lunch.

"I can't even tell you the surprise that we had [when viewing] that first video clip," said Crickette Sanz, the anthropologist from Washington University who led the expedition. "They [the chimps] arrive at these nests and they are carrying their tool sets with them. So they know the location that they're going to. And they're prepared. They've gathered the appropriate materials. And they arrive there ready to extract the termites from that underground nest or that elevated nest."

Sanz and her partner, David Morgan, have been camping in the Congolese forest to study the chimpanzees.

"To see it — the chimps using tools — and then to see it so clearly, it was a window into their lives that we had thought an awful lot about," Morgan said by satellite telephone. "But to be able to see it and to describe it and understand it a little bit better was amazing."

Sanz, Morgan and a third researcher, Steve Gulick, have just reported their findings in The American Naturalist, an academic journal.

Time and again, they say, the video, from six different locations in the forest, would show much the same thing: a chimpanzee using a sturdy stick to make a hole in a termite nest.

That done, the chimps would switch to a much thinner twig. They would flatten out the end with their teeth and use it to scoop out termites to eat.

The chimps would sometimes leave their stick tools in place to share with other chimps from their group. Other times, said Sanz, they would take the tools with them, apparently to reuse them elsewhere.

Line Is Blurring

Why does it matter if a chimp changes tools? Fuentes, the Notre Dame anthropologist who approved the publication of the study, says that until now, we've only known of one other species smart enough to do such a thing: human beings.

"We're not going to see chimpanzees flying airplanes; we're not going to see chimpanzees opening bank branches," said Fuentes with a smile. "We are, however, going to see chimpanzees doing the kinds of stuff we think our ancestors did."

So don't worry, say the scientists, we humans are still smarter; for one thing, the chimps depend on us to protect their forests.

But the line between human and animal, says Fuentes, just got a little murkier.


Chimpanzees make and use spears

Category: mammalogy Posted on: February 22, 2007 7:11 PM, by Darren Naish


By now you've probably heard the news: chimpanzees have been reported manufacturing, and using, spears (Gibbons 2007, Pruetz & Bertolani 2007). I'll say that again. Chimps Pan troglodytes make and use spears....

Specifically, the chimps concerned are of the subspecies P. t. verus, a taxon that some researchers (Morin et al. 1994, 1995) have tentatively elevated to specific status. As reported in Current Biology by Jill Pruetz of Iowa State University and Paco Bertolani of the University of Cambridge, the observations concern the 35 chimps of the Fongoli site in Senegal. On more than 20 occasions between March 2005 and July 2006 the Fongoli chimps were observed to fashion wooden spears and then use them in hunting concealed bushbaby prey that were hiding in cavities in trees and branches. Unlike many of the tool-using chimps we are familiar with, such as the Gombe and Tai National Park chimps, the Fongoli chimps are not rainforest animals, but inhabit a grassland-woodland mosaic.


Tool use in chimps has been known about for several decades, and over the years the sorts of tools that chimps have been observed using have become increasingly sophisticated. Termite fishing was reported by Jane Goodall in the 1960s and the use of hammers and anvils to break open nuts became well known in the 1990s (Goodall 1968, Boesch et al. 1994). The adjacent image shows one of the Gombe chimps using a tool to catch termites: those who've read any of Goodall's research will know the significance of the chimpanzee individual shown in the photo [image from here]. While there is one account in which a Tanzanian chimp was reported to use a tool to rouse a squirrel that was then killed and eaten (Huffman & Kalunde 1993), the manufacture and use of spears* is something very, very new. The chimps would break off a live branch, remove its twigs and leaves, and then form a sharpened point with their incisor teeth. The resultant tools averaged 60 cm in length.

* Some primatologists have already noted that use of the term 'spear' implies that the objects are thrown at prey, whereas the tools used by the Fongoli chimps are apparently used as stabbing weapons. There may, then, be some dispute over terminology.

The tools were deployed, not simply as probing devices as is the case when the chimps fish for termites, but as stabbing weapons that were thrust forcefully into the cavities. The spears were not used to extract the prey: from the description that Pruetz & Bertolani (2007) provide it seems that the bushbabies were killed within the cavity by the spear tip, and then extracted by hand. Only one successful kill was observed, and even in that case it could not be determined with certainty whether the spear was responsible for the death of the bushbaby. However, the evidence still looks pretty good.


The fact that chimps manufacture spears raises the possibility that such tools appeared much earlier within hominid history than we've thought until now. This ties in with recent work on archaeological sites, showing that chimps in what is now the Tai National Park have been using stone tools for thousands of years: a discovery which supports antiquity of tool use within hominids [adjacent image shows exacavated chimpanzee stone hammer, from here]. Pruetz & Bertolani (2007) draw attention to the fact that the Fongoli chimps are savannah-woodland inhabitants, apparently frequenting environments similar to those favoured by australopithecines and other close relatives of modern humans. It seems increasingly likely that the diversity of tools manufactured and used by australopithecines and other fossil hominids was higher than we can demonstrate from the fossil record, and the fact that female and immature chimps seem to be the primary makers and users of these tools suggests, significantly, that these are the animals that play the most important role in the early development of some tools.

This is pretty amazing stuff, and time constraints prevent me from writing more about it. National Geographic features the story here, and includes video clips of the chimps using their spears. The image at the top of the article is borrowed from National Geographic.

Hunting (even if chimps do not use tools for this) can be a social innovation. ... A 2006 research shocked when it found chimps using tools for hunting. ...

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