The ontogeny of termite gathering among chimpanzees in the Goualougo Triangle, Republic of Congo

Authors: Musgrave, S., Lonsdorf, E., Morgan, D., Sanz, C. (2020) 

Acquiring tool‐assisted foraging skills can potentially improve dietary quality and increase fitness for wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). In contrast to chimpanzees in East and West Africa, chimpanzees in the Congo Basin use tool sets and brush‐tipped fishing probes to gather termites. We investigated the ontogeny of these tool skills in chimpanzees of the Goualougo Triangle, Republic of Congo, and compared it to that for chimpanzees at Gombe, Tanzania. We assessed whether chimpanzees acquired simple tool behaviors and single tool use before more complex actions and sequential use of multiple tool types.

Materials and Methods
Using a longitudinal approach, we scored remote video footage to document the acquisition of termite‐gathering critical elements for 25 immature chimpanzees at Goualougo.

All chimpanzees termite fished by 2.9 years but did not manufacture brush‐tipped probes until an average of 4.3 years. Acquisition of sequential tool use extended into juvenility and adolescence. While we did not detect significant sex differences, most critical elements except tool manufacture were acquired slightly earlier by females.


These findings contrast with Gombe, where chimpanzees learn to both use and make fishing probes between ages 1.5–3.5 and acquire the complete task by age 5.5. Differences between sites could reflect tool material selectivity and design complexity, the challenge of sequential tool behaviors, and strength requirements of puncturing subterranean termite nests at Goualougo. These results illustrate how task complexity may influence the timing and sequence of skill acquisition, improving models of the ontogeny of tool behavior among early hominins who likely used complex, perishable technologies.

Learn more >>>