Quantcast
Connect with us

Chimpanzees spotted smashing open and eating tortoises for the first time

Published

on

All chimpanzees eat animals at least sometimes, including anything from ants and termites to bushpigs and even baboons. Monkeys, in fact, are typically the most frequent item on the menu, and in some cases chimpanzees can eat so many monkeys they threaten to wipe out entire populations. One group in Senegal even hunts tiny, mouse-like primates known as bushbabies by using spear-like tools to first probe the holes the bushbabies hide in during the day, before reaching in to grab their prey.

ADVERTISEMENT

So chimpanzees are rightly known as resourceful eaters. But until now scientists had never observed them eating reptiles.

That has all changed, thanks to a group of wild chimpanzees in Loango National Park along the Atlantic coast of Gabon in Central Africa. These chimps have recently become used to the presence of humans, which means scientists can now see them act exactly as they would in nature. And, writing in the journal Scientific Reports, a group of researchers say they have already observed behaviour not previously seen in chimpanzees.

These chimpanzees regularly catch, kill and consume tortoises that have been grabbed from the forest floor. For people like us, who also research chimpanzee behaviour, the discovery is particularly exciting because the animals obtain the tortoise meat by pounding the shell repeatedly onto a tree trunk until it cracks.

Thought pistachio nuts were hard to open? Try eating tortoise.

This sort of “percussive foraging” – the pounding of certain food items until a breaking point – has been seen in chimpanzees elsewhere, but never to obtain meat. For instance chimps in Senegal have been observed pounding baobab shells to extract the softer fruit-covered seeds inside. From Sierra Leone to the Ivory Coast, Western chimpanzees use stone and wooden hammers to crack open encased nuts from protective outer shells.

ADVERTISEMENT

Broadly, this sort of pounding has been suggested as the first step towards more complex tool use that allowed early human ancestors to flourish. The question of why other chimpanzee communities do not do this too, despite the clear benefits of obtaining otherwise protected nuts, seeds – and now meat – remains unanswered.

The reward is a tasty tortoise, helpfully served in a bowl-shaped shell.

This newly discovered percussive behaviour in chimpanzees leaves a significant damage pattern on the tortoise shell and potentially damages the anvil on which it was cracked. The evidence left behind is therefore of interest to us primate archaeologists who use archaeological techniques to understand the physical remains of non-human primates. Our work in this emerging discipline relies on material artefacts – shattered tortoise shells, for instance – to reconstruct contemporary primate behaviour in the same way we do for early hominins.

We have long assumed that reconstructing hominin meat-eating behaviour was dependent on our finding fossilised stone tools and cut marks left on processed animal bones. To this select list we can now add tortoise shell. Previously, scientists had looked at fractured turtle remains and argued the animals may have been an important part of early human diets, but the Loango chimpanzees provide us a glimpse of the role this meat may have played for our early ancestors.

ADVERTISEMENT

The new findings also reveal something even more remarkable. Among their observations, the researchers describe another novel behaviour, the storage of one of the tortoise shells in the fork of a tree that is later retrieved and consumed by the same male chimpanzee.

Chimpanzee eating part of a small antelope.
Camille Giuliano/Anne-Sophie Crunchant/GMERC, Author provided

Such “future-oriented cognition” has long been considered uniquely human, but experimental evidence suggests other species, including apes and some birds, may possess it as well. If chimpanzees can indeed anticipate a future state (I will be hungry) as being different than their current one (I am not hungry), then a more nuanced interpretation of their cognition is required. Indeed, a careful study of the species may uncover many more examples of this future planning.

It is now clear that with every new wild chimpanzee community that becomes used to humans, scientists observe new and unexpected behaviour – some of which challenges our understanding of evolution and what it means to be human. Furthermore, the difference in behaviour from group to group highlights the extraordinary cultural diversity among our closest living relatives.

ADVERTISEMENT

The opportunity for comparisons with our own evolution has become a run against time as the human infestation of the planet threatens wild primate populations worldwide. We know that the presence of humans directly destroys not only the habitat and lives of primates but also leads to the loss of behavioural diversity. Conserving the last remaining populations of wild apes has become urgent, otherwise our fellow primates will disappear forever. With their extinction will disappear a part of their own heritage and a window back to our own evolution.The Conversation

Lydia Luncz, Research Fellow, Primate Models for Behavioural Evolution Lab, University of Oxford; Alexander Piel, Lecturer in Animal Behaviour, Liverpool John Moores University, and Fiona Stewart, Visiting Lecturer in Primatology, Liverpool John Moores University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

2020 Election

Trump holds mass rally with Indian Prime Minister that was more like a campaign event than official one

Published

on

US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday declared themselves united in a relentless fight against "terrorism," vowing a close, personal alliance in front of tens of thousands of Indian-Americans.

The two leaders, like-minded nationalists fond of fiery rallies and skeptical of traditional media, heaped praise on each other in an unusual joint appearance inside a football stadium in Houston.

To the bhangra beats of four drummers in saffron turbans, Trump in his dark suit and Modi in a yellow kurta and vest made a grand entrance with arms clenched together to ecstatic cheers from a crowd estimated by organizers at 50,000.

Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Here’s how the law governing whistleblowers applies to the Trump Ukraine complaint

Published

on

This week it was revealed that President Donald Trump did something so concerning that an intelligence staffer felt the need to report the incident and file for whistleblower protections.

Trump asked Ukraine to look into scandals about former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter. For nearly a year, Trump's former attorney Rudy Giuliani was admittedly working to persuade officials in Ukraine to find "dirt" on the Bidens that they could use in the election. While the accusations against the younger Biden have been disproven, it's suspected, but not confirmed, that this was the incident detailed in the complaint.

Continue Reading
 

Breaking Banner

Retiring Republican lawmaker blames Trump’s ‘petty, childish bullsh*t’ for massive GOP exodus

Published

on

In an examination of the record-breaking number of Republican lawmakers who have decided to quit or retire despite holding a seat in solidly conservative congressional districts, one lawmaker admitted that he grew weary of having to deal with Donald Trump's daily Twitter habit and other shenanigans -- so he is calling it quits.

As the Washington Post reports, "Since Trump’s inauguration, a Washington Post analysis shows that nearly 40 percent of the 241 Republicans who were in office in January 2017 are gone or leaving because of election losses, retirements including former House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis)."

Continue Reading
 
 
Help Raw Story Investigate and Uncover Injustice. Join Raw Story Investigates for $1 and go ad-free.
close-image