Chimpanzee Mothers Filmed Teaching Their Children To Use Tools For The First Time

Chimpanzee mothers teach their children how to fish for termites using shaped tools. Michael Nichols

For the first time, chimpanzee mothers have been filmed teaching their children to use tools in the wild. The mothers took time away from their own hunting to show their offspring how to use twigs to capture termites.

“Wild chimpanzees are exceptional tool users, but in contrast to humans, there has been little evidence to date that adult chimpanzees teach youngsters tool skills,” said Stephanie Musgrave, a graduate student at Washington University, St. Louis.

 Although research earlier this year proved human children spontaneously adopt tool use without being taught, learning is often essential. Likewise, dolphins' use of sponges for hunting is thought to be passed from mother to child, although some dolphin genius must have come up with the idea.

A video from the study

A study last year found that young chimpanzees take up tools of their own accord, and spend their youth playing with them while their close relatives bonobos concentrate on building social networks.

However, in Scientific Reports, Musgrave has revealed film taken by tree-mounted cameras showing that adult chimps pass on tools to their young, who then put them to use.

This happens often enough that Musgrave was able to observe patterns, including that there is a price to pay for the teaching, primarily the handing over of a useful tool to a less experienced operator. This is important, since situations where one individual learns by watching another, but no sacrifice is made by the more experienced beast, are not considered to represent teaching by animal behaviorists.

Co-author Dr Crickette Sanz and colleagues mount a camera on a tree to observe chimpanzees in the wild without disturbing them. Ian Nichols

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