Scientists have discovered that chimpanzees can fashion plant stems into tools that resemble fishing rods, in order to scoop termites out of their nests.
According to a report by BBC News, a team working in the Republic of Congo discovered that chimps are crafting brush-tipped “fishing rods” with the help of their teeth.
As observed in recorded video, the probes’ frayed ends helped the chimpanzees to collect more termites.
“They have invented a way to improve their termite-fishing technique,” said lead researcher Crickette Sanz, from the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.
Previous studies have suggested that wild chimpanzees use brush-tipped tools to fish for termites.
The chimps seem to understand the function of the tool and its importance in gathering termites.
But, until now, it has been unclear whether this was a specially crafted design feature or whether the frayed edges were a by-product of repeated tool use.
Using remote cameras to film the chimps as they sought out their insect snacks, the scientific team was able to find an answer.
“We found that in the Goualougo Triangle in the Republic of Congo, the chimpanzees were modifying their termite-fishing tools with a special brush tip,” Dr Sanz told the BBC.
To make their rods, the chimps first picked some stems from the Marantaceae plant and plucked off the leaves.
“They then pulled the herb stems through their teeth, which were partially closed, to make the brush and they also attended to the brush by sometimes pulling apart the fibres to make them better at gathering the termites,” Dr Sanz added.
Further research revealed that a stem with a frayed tip collected 10 times more termites than a pointed probe.
According to Dr Sanz, “The chimps seem to understand the function of the tool and its importance in gathering termites.”
So far, the team have only found this behaviour in chimps in the Goualougo Triangle.
The apparent absence of this in populations in eastern and western Africa suggests that it is not an innate skill found in all chimpanzees.
Instead, it seems that the Goualougo primates are learning the crafting techniques from other chimps.
“Large areas of central Africa have been largely unstudied and so there are many populations that could have examples of complex tool use that we just do not know about,” Dr Sanz said.