Truth or fiction?
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.