Chimpanzees can use tools to ‘fish’ for food without first watching another animal to learn from them, researchers have found.
It is the first evidence chimpanzees can use tools spontaneously to solve a task.
Chimpanzees at Twycross Zoo, UK, were provided with a container of water with pieces of floating food, and were able to use sticks to ‘fish’ for the food.
Mini the baby Chimpanzee at Twycross Zoo, where the experiemnts took place. It is the first evidence chimpanzees can use tools spontaneously to solve a task, without needing to watch others first.
Researchers from the University of Birmingham, UK, and University of Tübingen, Germany, looked for the spontaneous re-occurrence of a tool-use behaviour practiced in wild chimpanzees where sticks are used to ‘scoop’ algae from the top of water surfaces.
‘The commonly held belief is that chimpanzee behaviour is cultural, much like how human culture has been passed between groups,’ Elisa Bandini said.
‘But if that was the case, the same behaviours should never re-occur in naïve subjects.
‘Nobody, for example, could accurately reinvent extinct languages on the spot.’
The tested chimpanzees successfully used the sticks, and moreover, spontaneously showed the same underlying action pattern (a scooping action of the stick) as their wild cousins do.
The results challenge the accepted belief that chimpanzees need to learn from each other how to use tools, and instead suggest that some (if not all) forms of tool-use are instead within their pre-existing behavioural repertoire (what the authors call ‘latent solutions’).
The evidence of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) spontaneously using sticks to scoop food from water surfaces is published in the open-access journal PeerJ.
WATCH CHIMP MOTHERS TEACH THEIR YOUNG TO USE TOOLS
For the first time ever, researchers have captured footage of wild chimpanzee mothers teaching their offspring to use tools.
The videos taken at the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo shed new light on the evolution of teaching, showing how young chimpanzees learn from their mothers to catch termites with ‘fishing probes.’
The footage also revealed that the mothers used different strategies to provide their young with tools.
Sometimes, they would bring multiple ‘fishing probes’ to the termite nest to share with their offspring.
Other times, the mothers would divide their own tools in half.
This suggests the mothers were able to anticipate the needs of their young, and come up with different ways to meet these needs with minimal effort.
Due to the close genetic ties between humans and chimpanzees, it is likely that naïve individuals also spontaneously invented some forms of early human material culture.
Dr Claudio Tennie added, ‘Given these results, the long-held assumption that apes must observe one another in order to show these behaviours may have been due to an illusion of cultural transmission – created by the apes arriving at the same behaviour independently.’
Chimps at Twycross Zoo were given a container of water with pieces of food in, and were able to use sticks, and showed the same scooping action as their wild cousins, having never seen another chimp do it
The University of Birmingham and Twycross Zoo has a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which promotes teaching, research and other activities for the mutual benefit of both parties.
This research was conducted under the MoU agreement, using Twycross’ extensive history with, and in caring for, primates.