Scientists know that a variety of animal species actually use tools, just like we do, to make life easier, but it’s not often that you get to capture these animals in the act of teaching one another to use said tools.
Chimpanzees are just one of these types of animals, and for the first time, scientists have managed to capture the rare moments of a mother teaching her offspring how to use one on video using camera hidden in the trees. Their findings have been published in the journal Scientific Reports.
In what appears to be a lengthy tool for excavating termites out of a tight space, a plant stem has been re-purposed and the mother is showing her offspring how to use it to probe for termites for food.
Throught the mother chimpanzee’s teachings, it’s believed the offspring will learn not only how to use the tool, but also the kinds of materials needed to make it, as well as how to make it.
During the learning process, the offspring may actually harm or destroy the tool that the mother has created, so it’s entirely possible that the mother may lose her tool entirely during the transfer to her young.
“Tool transfers are costly for mothers, whose ability to forage for termites is reduced, but are beneficial for offspring, who gain increased opportunity to learn tool skills and gather termites,” said study lead author Stephanie Musgrave. “This is the first such evidence satisfying these criteria for teaching in wild apes.”
In some cases, mothers will have more than one tool so they don’t lose their own, or they will try to split their existing tool in half (lengthwise) so that they still have something left if the offspring ruins their half.
More importantly, tool usage probably varies depending on the region the chimpanzees are native to. Not all regions around the world have the same kinds of plants available, so they might need to improvise by using other, similar plants as tools. That said, it’s believed some groups of chimpanzees may learn differently and use different kinds of tools for different purposes before passing their knowledge down to their offspring.
“Studying how young chimpanzees learn the tool skills particular to their group helps us to understand the evolutionary origins of culture and technology and to clarify how human cultural abilities are similar to or different from those of our closest living relatives,” Musgrave said.
It’s certainly interesting to see this kind of behavior, as it outlines the intelligence of other animal species that often get written off by those who says animals are just animals.
Source: Washington University in St. Louis