Is this breaking news: Chimps hunt using spears?

What’s this? Chimps hunt using spears?

That’s what the authors, Jill Pruetz and Paco Bertolani, are reporting in a yet to be published paper in the journal Current Biology.

Since we don’t have the primary source, I’m relying on a news article published by the BBC News Spears used by Chimpanzees for huntingto share this with you. Here’s all I got so far:

“Chimpanzees in Senegal have been observed making and using wooden spears to hunt other primates… Researchers documented 22 cases of chimps fashioning tools to jab at smaller primates sheltering in cavities of hollow branches or tree trunks…. Chimps had not been previously observed hunting other animals with tools.”

This is an important finding, right on the coat tails of the report on the 4,300 year old stone tools used by chimps. I don’t know yet if this is a case where chimps fashioned spears or just selected for sticks that are effective spears (like the best stones that will be good anvils and hammers), but at the very minimum it expands our knowledge base on tool usage in non-human primates.

You can expect me to keep a diligent eye open for this publication. I’ll do my best to read it as soon as I get my grubby hands on it.

7 thoughts on “Is this breaking news: Chimps hunt using spears?

  1. LiveScience [1] is reporting this too, and the paper’s available as “in press” via ScienceDirect. The abstract is:

    Although tool use is known to occur in species ranging from naked mole rats [1] to owls [2], chimpanzees are the most accomplished tool users 3, 4 and 5. 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.



  2. They’re fashioning spears through a quite sophisticated, multistep technique that involves sharpening with the teeth.

    Here’s my write up of the findings, which is based on the advanced PDF available for those with a subscription (I have one through my university) to Current Biology.

  3. Hey, I dont know if this will work, but you may be able to get the actual publication at this address below. Good luck!

  4. Greg, we don’t see a link. But that’s okay because I we already tracked down the publication. Thanks for keeping an eye out for us though.

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