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12.10.04

Chimps Are Smarter Than You Think

Chimps Shown Using Not Just A Tool But A "Tool Kit"

... The new video cameras revealed chimps using one short stick to penetrate the aboveground mounds and then a "fishing probe" to extract the termites.

For subterranean nests the chimps use their feet to force a larger "puncturing stick" into the earth, drilling holes into termite chambers, and then a separate fishing probe to harvest the insects. Often the chimps modified the fishing probe, pulling it through their teeth to fray the end like a paintbrush. The frayed edge was better for collecting the insects.

... The study reinforces the notion that tool use began long before humans walked the planet. Humans, chimps, and orangutans all used wood and bone tools, suggesting that tool use originated with a common ancestor more than 12 million years ago, Fuentes said.


I'm just generally fascinated with stories documenting instances of surprising intelligence among animals (though unfortunately a conflict between my wireless card and my sound card prevents me from watching the videos). The line marking humans off from animals gets blurrier every year. I wonder, though, about the assumption that commonalities in behavior can be chalked up to common heritage. Certainly humans and chimps share the genes that give us the capacity for complex tool use. But after reading about how the chimps interacted with the camera, I'm intrigued by the possibility that somewhere along the line, the chimps picked up some ideas from watching the local humans -- a cultural connection, rather than an inherited one.

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