So the paper, I mentioned this morning, on chimpanzees hunting with spears has come out… and literally the entire blogosphere I know and track has reported on it. If that’s any indication that this is a remarkable finding to them, then so be it. By the way, Digg loves this news too.
To me this is an interesting finding, but nothing really new.
We have known for a long time chimpanzees use tools in one form or another. Chimpanzee tool use was documented by several primatologists in the field, such as stone tools to crack nuts and sticks used to fish ants and termites. The history, or rather prehistory, of chimpanzee tool use was supplemented with recent archaeological evidence that shows us chimpanzee tool use has been happening for thousands of years.
So what’s the big deal if chimps now also use ‘spears’ to hunt? To me it is just another tool used by a species of primate that has already been well documented as an intelligent organism.
The big deal is the authors of this Curent Biology paper, “Savanna Chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes verus, Hunt with Tools” are claiming the chimps are actually making the spears, and not just selecting for sticks that would be good spears. If this is the case, then this is a critical behavior that distinguishes this form of tool use, from nut cracking. In nut cracking, chimpanzees select for stones that would be more effective in cracking nuts. They don’t particularly make stones that would be good nut crackers. The abstract reflects what they found and I’ve bolded the statements that I feel are particularly outstanding:
“Although tool use is known to occur in species ranging from naked mole rats to owls, chimpanzees are the most accomplished tool users. The modification and use of tools during hunting, however, is still considered to be a uniquely human trait among primates. Here, we report the first account of habitual tool use during vertebrate hunting by nonhumans. At the Fongoli site in Senegal, we observed ten different chimpanzees use tools to hunt prosimian prey in 22 bouts. This includes immature chimpanzees and females, members of age-sex classes not normally characterized by extensive hunting behavior. Chimpanzees made 26 different tools, and we were able to recover and analyze 12 of these. Tool construction entailed up to five steps, including trimming the tool tip to a point. Tools were used in the manner of a spear, rather than a probe or rousing tool. This new information on chimpanzee tool use has important implications for the evolution of tool use and construction for hunting in the earliest hominids, especially given our observations that females and immature chimpanzees exhibited this behavior more frequently than adult males.”
So there you have it, chimps make spears. More over, more female chimps make them than males… I’m sure my physical anthropology professor Adrienne Zihlman would like to read that.
I’ve gathered a list of other blogs who have reported on this paper at the time of my writing of this post, you should have a read and see what other people find interesting.
- Chimpanzees make and use spears from Tetrapod Zoology.
- Woman the Hunter? from The Loom.
- Chimps With Spears from Mixing Memory.
And from National Geographic News, ‘Chimps Use “Spears” to Hunt Mammals, Study Says‘ as well as a video, ‘Chimps Make and Use “Spears” to Hunt.’ According to the National Geographic News, one of the author’s work, Jill Pruetz, with chimpanzees will be featured in an upcoming NOVA/National Geographic special on PBS but the air date is not yet announced.