Termite-Fishing Chimpanzee Provides Clues to The Evolution of Technology

Using the latest human-made technology of motion-activated cameras, researchers remotely watched 25 immature wild chimpanzees grow up. They also documented how the closest relatives of humankind are acquiring their unique tool skills for harvesting termites, which are an important nutrient-rich element of the chimpanzee diet.

Termite-Fishing Chimpanzee
Chimpanzees and Their Toolsets

Unlike chimpanzees in West and East Africa, who use a single tool to extract termites, chimpanzees in Congo Basin, Central America, use toolsets: perforating twigs, puncturing sticks, and fishing probes to harvest insects from towering earthen mounds scattered across lowland forests and underground nests.

It turns out that chimpanzees living in this region have the most sophisticated arsenal of tool-using skills documented in the animal kingdom. Aside from their specialized toolsets for harvesting termites, honey, and termites, they also customize the implements with different modifications in order to improve their efficiency.

Stephanie Musgrave, biological anthropologist at the University of MiamiTrying to untangle how chimpanzees in this area acquire these complex tool tasks, Stephanie Musgrave who is a biological anthropologist at the University of Miami screened thousands of hours of video footage that record visits to termite nests, including those by leopards, gorillas, forest elephants, in the Republic of Congo’s Goualougo Triangle. Her reward was identifying more than 660 hours of periodic visits by 25 young chimpanzees belonging to a notoriously elusive subspecies of chimpanzees. The recorded 15 years of footage captured the development of their tool-using skills from birth until maturity.

Key Features In The Human Culture

Human evolutionIn the study, chimpanzees learn to use and make their unique termite-extracting toolsets, Musgrave and her colleagues with the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project provide novel insights into how cultures of chimpanzee persist over generations and maybe how technology came to be a defining aspect of the evolution of humanity.

Musgrave shares that one of the key features of human culture is its remarkable complexity. It is what we call cumulative. However, the expansion and continuation of such research depend on the long-term preservation of wild chimpanzees and their cultures. Both are increasingly endangered by human activities.#