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Social influences on ant-dipping acquisition in the wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) of Bossou, Guinea, West Africa

Abstract

We currently have little understanding of the influence of learning opportunity, whether social or environmental, and maternal role on tool-use acquisition in young wild chimpanzees. This study aims to fill this gap by focusing on the acquisition of ant-dipping among chimpanzees of Bossou, Guinea. Ant-dipping is a hazardous tool-use behaviour aimed at army ants (Dorylus spp.). Bossou chimpanzees target these ants both at nests (high risk) and trails (low risk) and employ two techniques to consume them: direct mouthing and pull-through. We present data for 13 mother–offspring pairs (1–10 years old). Mothers with young ≤5 years old dipped significantly more often at trails than at nests, thus minimizing the risk posed to themselves and their young. Infants thus benefited from better conditions to observe and practice ant-dipping. Mothers also varied greatly in their percent time spent ant-dipping and offspring differed in their learning opportunity. Our results suggest that high opportunity young started to observe and perform ant-dipping sooner and were better at ant-dipping than low opportunity young. Although mothers and weaned offspring correlated positively in their percent time spent dipping and proficiency, they did not match in technique used or tool length. Finally, we propose that the learning trajectory of young may predict individual and sex differences in adulthood. This study demonstrates the important role of mothers and learning opportunity in the acquisition of a hazardous tool-use behaviour and suggests that chimpanzee material culture is a product of a complex interaction between social processes and ecological factors.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the Ministère de l’Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche Scientifique, in particular the Direction Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique and l’Institut de Recherche Environnementale de Bossou (IREB), for granting us permission to carry out research at Bossou. We are particularly grateful to Gen Yamakoshi and Gaku Ohashi for contributing some video recordings of ant-dipping, to Caspar Schöning for his revision of the taxonomy of army ants consumed by Bossou chimpanzees and to Christelle Colin for her help with video analysis. The present study was supported in part by grants from the Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture, Japan (no. 07102010, 12002009, 16002001, and JSPS-GCOE A06 Biodiversity to TM), a Leakey Foundation Grant and an NIH Kirschstein-NRSA Postdoctoral Fellowship (MH068906-01) to TH.

Author information

Correspondence to Tatyana Humle.

Additional information

This contribution is part of the Supplement Issue “The Chimpanzee Mind” (Matsuzawa 2009).

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

S1. Supplemental video. Jeje, 7 year old male from Bossou, performing the direct mouthing technique whilst dipping on trail of epigaeic army ants. (MPG 9478 kb)

S2. Supplemental video. Fanle, 7 year old female from Bossou, performing the pull-through technique and Yolo, 14 year old male from Bossou, performing the direct mouthing technique, whilst ant-dipping at the nest of epigaeic army ants. (MPG 8252 kb)

S1. Supplemental video. Jeje, 7 year old male from Bossou, performing the direct mouthing technique whilst dipping on trail of epigaeic army ants. (MPG 9478 kb)

S2. Supplemental video. Fanle, 7 year old female from Bossou, performing the pull-through technique and Yolo, 14 year old male from Bossou, performing the direct mouthing technique, whilst ant-dipping at the nest of epigaeic army ants. (MPG 8252 kb)

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Humle, T., Snowdon, C.T. & Matsuzawa, T. Social influences on ant-dipping acquisition in the wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) of Bossou, Guinea, West Africa. Anim Cogn 12, 37–48 (2009) doi:10.1007/s10071-009-0272-6

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Keywords

  • Ant-dipping
  • Chimpanzee
  • Culture
  • Learning
  • Sex difference
  • Tool use
  • Development