Truth or fic­tion?

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Contents -

Was the bel­uga whale found in Arc­tic wa­ters this April a trained spy?

New re­search has re­vealed that chim­panzees are able to use tools to dig for food, even if they’ve never been taught to dig and have never ex­pe­ri­enced buried food.

Wild chimps liv­ing in the sa­van­nah in Sene­gal and Tan­za­nia are known to dig for food with sticks but it’s not known whether they learn the be­hav­iour from oth­ers or work it out for them­selves.

To find out, bi­ol­o­gists turned to a pop­u­la­tion of 10 captive chimps liv­ing on a forested is­land en­clo­sure in Kris­tiansand Zoo, Nor­way, none of which had dig­ging ex­pe­ri­ence.

Once the chimps had be­come used to tak­ing fruit from the bot­tom of open holes, the bi­ol­o­gists started fill­ing them up with soil. Nine of the chimps man­aged to re­trieve the fruit and seven of them used sticks to var­i­ously probe, dig, pound and shovel the earth.

It has long been sus­pected that a di­etary shift to buried roots and tu­bers was a cru­cial step in hu­man evo­lu­tion.

“These un­der­ground foods likely made up a sig­nif­i­cant part of the diet of early ho­minins dur­ing the tran­si­tion from forested to dry habi­tats,” says lead au­thor Alba Motes-Ro­drigo of Ger­many’s Univer­sity of Tübin­gen.

The bi­ol­o­gists sug­gest that our an­ces­tors may have worked out how to ex­ploit this novel food source in a sim­i­lar way to the chimps. SB

FIND OUT MORE

Read the pa­per in PLOS ONE at bit.ly/chim­pdig

Chim­panzees are able to teach them­selves how to dig for food.

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