Chimpanzee Tool Use: Ants, Termites, and Bee’s Nests

Science Daily has an interesting item, Chimpanzees Develop ‘Specialized Tool Kits’ To Catch Army Ants, that discusses research into tool use in chimpanzee ant catching behavior.

From Science Daily:

Chimpanzees that harvest ants simply by raking a nest open with their hands cause a massive counter-attack from the ants. This results not only in bites but the attack may provoke the ants to migrate and build a new nest at a different location.

However, by using the perforation tools the chimps can entice the ants out and can allow the insertion of the second tool for dipping. This not only reduces the ant’s aggressive behavior but may also be a ‘sustainable harvesting’ technique as the ants will stay in that location allowing the chimpanzees to revisit this renewable source of food.

It also appears that chimpanzees practice recycling by recognizing tool forms and re-using tools which have been discarded by other individuals during previous visits.

This is similar to behavior seen in chimpanzees termite fishing and breaking into bee’s nests for honey. In all three scenarios multiple tools are used and the sequence of actions is similar. Compare the procedure from the above quote with this description of getting honey from my previous post:

Different tools and methods are needed to obtain underground bee honey. The chimps wield a perforator to penetrate the ground, locate a honey chamber and dig into the soil. They then pull off strips of bark to “dip and spoon the honey out of the opened beehive.”

Sounds very similar. Now here is a description of termite fishing:

Co-author Josep Call told Discovery News that chimps first uproot the stem of a plant “or use their teeth to clip the stem at the base and then remove the large leaf from the distal end by clipping it with their teeth before transporting the stem to the termite nest.”

At the termite site, “they complete tool manufacture by modifying the end into a ‘paint brush’ tip by pulling the stem through their teeth, splitting the probe lengthwise by pulling off strands of fiber, or separating the fibers by biting them,” added Call, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology.

So, chimpanzees have a basic tool and behavior repertoire that gets generalized to a variety of similar situations. Interesting…

The research on ants can be found here.

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