SEP 07, 2017 7:39 AM PDT

Thailand-Based Macaques Adapt Their Stone Tool Usage for Something New

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

When you’re trying to learn about animal behavior, what better way than to set up various camera traps around their habitat so you can spy on them?

An international team of researchers from both Thailand and the U.K. followed this procedure to learn about a new behavior in Long-tailed Macaques. They published their findings in the International Journal of Primatology.

Some macaques are attributing an old behavior to a completely new food source, highlighting their ingenuity.

Image Credit: mmk58/Pixabay

Long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascilularis), native to the southern regions of Thailand, are known for using stones as tools to open shellfish gathered off the coasts of both Myanmar and Thailand. Nevertheless, as humans continue disturbing their habitat with pollution and other factors, they’ve been forced to find new food sources.

One of such food sources they’ve turned to is the abundant palm oil nut, but there’s quite a hefty challenge involved: breaking open the hard shell to exploit the goods inside.

The camera traps placed by the researchers revealed that within just 13 years since the start of the transition to a new food source, the macaques have already learned how to use the same stone tools they used to break open shellfish to do the same with palm oil nuts.

They describe the behavior as resting the palm oil nut on a flat stone such that it would work like an anvil. Once situated, the macaques use another stone from above to smash the nut open. The following footage, unrelated to this particular study, reveals just how they do this:

Related: Infant macaques, like infant humans, smile in their sleep

It’s a significant finding because it illustrates how the animals were intelligent enough to adapt a previously-known behavior to an entirely new kind of challenge, which the researchers note as a sign of “exhibiting cultural tendencies.”

Among all the animals in the wild, the macaque is just one of three animal species known to use stone tools in the wild. The evidence that they could adapt their behavior for a new purpose illuminates how their level of intelligence is higher than we originally credited.

With further research, we might be able to learn more about how the macaques exhibit this behavior. For example, perhaps they use stone tools for other purposes besides eating. If the researchers are lucky, they might even find clues as to how other remote populations use these types of tools in different ways.

It should be interesting to see what kinds of results surface as researchers continue tapping into the latest technology to learn about the world around us.


About the Author
Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
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