Saturday, February 24, 2007

Attack of the Chimpanzees

For the first time chimpanzees in Senegal have been observed making spears and spearing bush babies.

That's right, another example of tool usage has cropped up in primates, but this time they aren't cracking nuts with rocks, or fishing termites out of their mounds with reeds. This time, they've moved ahead to honing their tools to make more efficient hunting weapons.

The chimps are sharpening sticks with their teeth and then jabbing their homemade spears into the dens of bush babies, which they then eat. Jane Goodall had witnessed carnivorous activity in chimps so I knew they ate the occasional meat but the news that they actively hunted was pretty surprising.

Chimpanzees in Senegal have been observed making and using wooden spears to hunt other animals, according to a study in the journal Current Biology. It's the first time primates have been seen using tools to hunt.

Actually the above quote is a little off if you think about it. Using the term 'primates' is technically wrong since humans are primates as well. The article should say non-human primates. Humans are primates after all. Not only do we share the same order (Primate), we are also in the same suborder (Haplorrhini), infraorder (Simiiformes), parvorder (Catarrhini), superfamily (Hominoidea), family (Hominidae) and subfamily (Homininae) as gorillas and chimpanzees. We can even go down to the tribe (Hominini) if we exclude gorillas and only include the chimps.

Chimps have been known to use tools before... but this use of spear-like weapons to attack other animals is completely new.

More At: BBC News: Chimps use spears to hunt and BBC News: Chimpanzees 'hunt using spears'

Another interesting side note in all of this is that most of the tool manufacture and use in hunting was initiated by the females. This little bit of information supports the theory that all through human evolution it has been the female of the species that has been on the forefront of innovation and creativity while the male has been focused on hunting etc.

It is also interesting to note that only about 1 out of 22 of the bush baby "spear-hunts" were successful. This leads one wonder if this is a recently adopted behavior. If you had only 4.5% chance of catching dinner, would you give up and go back tried and true methods? It could be that this is statistically an improvement on catch rates and so the behavior will reenforce itself?

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