Upping the ant-e: Clever chimps boost termite catch

Mar 04, 2009
Close up of a chimpanzee. Chimpanzees not only use a tool to snare termites but are able to modify it as well, a skill that requires conceptual and cultural skills, scientists said on Wednesday.

Chimpanzees not only use a tool to snare termites but are able to modify it as well, a skill that requires conceptual and cultural skills, scientists said on Wednesday.

Zoologists have long known that chimps eager for a tasty termite snack use a short stick, which is thrust into the termites' nest. The insects bite on the intruding probe and are then extracted and slurped down.

In a study published by Britain's Royal Society, a trio of scientists from Germany, the United States and the Republic of Congo describe how some chimpanzees have learned to go one better.

Apes in the Goualougo Triangle, a lowland forest in the Nouabale-Ndoki National Park the Republic of Congo, have learnt how to modify termite-fishing tools to get a better catch.

The team set up video cameras with passive infrared sensors to record how the chimps behaved at termite nests.

The apes, they found, manufactured special "brush sticks" in the knowledge that more termites would hook onto this form of the probe.

The sticks are made from the stems of arrowroot plants, which are picked by the chimps and defoliated. The apes then use their teeth to split the end of the stem and fray the fibres, forming a tip that looks rather like an artist's paintbrush.

More than 80 percent of tools recovered from termite nests in six chimpanzee communities in the Goualougo Triangle have been engineered to give a brush tip, according to the paper.

"Brush sticks" have also been found at other chimp sites in central Africa but, interestingly, chimpanzees in eastern Africa actively remove frayed ends.

Perhaps those chimps should learn the trick. For the zoologists tested the brush stick and the unmodified stick for themselves and were surprised by the difference in effectiveness.

The brush stick was four times more likely to result in a catch, and the average haul was 4.9 termites compared with 0.27 termites with the unmodified stick.

The findings are important, says the study. It seems that chimpanzees, like humans, are able to conceptualise what they want to do -- and tool making is a cultural achievement, learnt or copied from others, and not something innate.

"Our results indicate that chimpanzees have a mental template of the tool form, which is employed in crafting the tool prior to use and refining it during use," says the study.

The paper, appearing in the journal Biology Letters, is headed by Josep Call of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, eastern Germany.

(c) 2009 AFP

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mabarker
1 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2009
Yes, very interesting, but this is not evidence for MACROevolution. Let's not forget Darwin's finches do pretty much the same thing. Dolphins are 'intelligent' - and horses and dogs and . . .
"DNA makes clear that [Homo erectus] was almost certainly a dead end and not our ancestor." Even "Lucy" is no longer a missing link:

Lucy's kind occupied only a side branch of human evolution. A. afarensis evolved into the relatively small-brained, large-jawed robust australopithecines but didn't contribute to the evolution of modern people, says anthropologist Yoel Rak of Tel Aviv University.
Man is unique with no fossil/biochemical evidence of having come from alleged ape-like ancestors.

Ethelred
not rated yet Mar 05, 2009
but this is not evidence for MACROevolution


Nor is there is there any such claim in the article. Are you that desperate to make reality go away that you invent opportunities? However now that you have given those with a scientific bent an opportunity.

"DNA makes clear that [Homo erectus] was almost certainly a dead end and not our ancestor."


Oooh, magic. Magically created DNA that no one else has. Where did you get this DNA to prove that? My suspicion is that it came from a Creationist site that took articles without any claim of having Erectus DNA and then just pretended a lot. I found a couple of those before posting this.

No one has DNA from a H. Erectus. Nor is there ANY evidence they were a dead end.

Now there IS some H. Neanderthalensis DNA and it does give some evidence that Neanderthal was not a modern human ancestor. Which many have suspected for a long time.

Even "Lucy" is no longer a missing link:


No not a missing link. Just likely anscestor of humans. A species between Genus Homo and the ape we descended from.

. A. afarensis evolved into the relatively small-brained, large-jawed robust australopithecines but didn't contribute to the evolution of modern people, says anthropologist Yoel Rak of Tel Aviv University.


One guy with a personal opinion does not constitute proof . It will thrill you to the core that he has another moderately ape-like candidate for human ancestor so even if he is right you are still wrong. False dichotomy, the crutch of creationists everywhere. Rak prefers Ardipithecus but the time frame makes it possible that an Ardipithecus species could be ancestral to Afarensis which could be ancestral to us. Jaws change under evolutionary stress, size changes, and dietary changes.

So far A. Afarensis looks to be the ancestor of all later Australopithecus species. It may not be a hominid ancestor but its pretty clear any human ancestor from the time must be similar to A. Afarensis. Afarensis has both human and non-human ape characteristics so that's a pretty clear indication it was either an ancestor of humans or closely related to one.

Man is unique with no fossil/biochemical evidence of having come from alleged ape-like ancestors.


Nothing alleged about it. Our ancestors weren't just ape-like they were apes. Primates without tails are apes. That's does describe us. So it is not unreasonable to call us apes although there I suppose it can be argued that the changes to human anatomy to support upright walking could be enough to qualify as a new family. I think we qualify as apes. Yes, you too.

Ethelred