Thanks to afarensis, I woke up this morning to find news that the very same chimps that use spears to hunt, have been observed to use caves during hot days, to avoid the heat. Chimp in a caveThese chimpanzees live in a region of Senegal where it is mostly an,

“arid savanna habitat dominated by open grassland and sparse woodland. Chimpanzees in these areas exhibit a range of behaviors not found elsewhere.

Pruetz noted that cave use is just one of several strategies the chimpanzees use to cope with their difficult environment, where both shade and water are critical resources.”

Jim Moore, an anthropologist, from UC Davis takes this observation and asks,

“a whole set of questions, given that this behavior isn’t seen in other regions of Africa… ‘Are they right at the edge of what chimpanzees can handle in terms of temperature … or is it a cultural thing?'”

The National Geographic news article goes to quote a couple anthropologist/primatologists who state that this behavior hasn’t been observed in another ape species, but before we say this is a novel-pseudo hominid caveman behavior, let’s first remember many other species of animals, such as predatory cats retreat to caves and shade to avoid the heat. So when I read that, William McGrew of Cambridge University in England says,

“This is one of those cases in which the apes genuinely surprise us, exceeding our expectations and imaginations.”

I begin to question how much comparative analysis he has done, if any? Sometimes I worry that when people put out press releases like this, they over analyze a simple behavior, failing to see that most other species do retreat to caves and shaded cover to avoid the heat.

Don’t get me wrong, the combination of the spear usage and cave dwelling in this population of chimpanzees is borderline human behavior, but I believe spear using is more definitively a novel behavior, than retreating to caves to avoid the heat.