Study Corner - Tool Use
Just like humans, chimpanzees can create tools to make their lives easier. For example, they’re known for making tools out of leafy twigs and stems to "fish" tasty termites out of termite mounds.
Termites are one of chimpanzees' favorite foods – but how to reach the creatures deep within their mounds presents quite a problem. One day in 1960, Jane Goodall discovered how chimpanzees solve the difficulty. A chimp named David Greybeard picked up a twig and stripped the leaves off of it. Then he stuck the twig into one of the holes in the termite mound, left it there for a moment, and slowly pulled it out. As termites clung to the twig, David picked them off with his lips and scrunched them.
Jane's observation was the first report of chimpanzees making and using tools in the wild. It surprised the scientific world! Until then, experts thought humans were the only animals who could make tools. In fact, tool-making was part of scientists' definition of "human.”
If tool-making was something only humans could do, does this make chimps human? Jane’s discovery opened a new debate about what it really means to be a human being.
Later scientists learned that chimpanzees use and make other tools as well. Some chimps take a stick to scrape out food, just like a person might use a spoon to scoop out a tasty treat. Other chimps have learned to use leaves to help them drink. At Gombe, the chimpanzees sometimes can't reach water that has formed in hollows high up inside trees. So the chimps take a handful of leaves, chew them, dip this “sponge” into the little pool and suck out the water.
Today we know that chimpanzees make and use tools differently in different places. For example, chimps in some parts of Africa will crack nuts with rocks, but the researchers have never seen Gombe chimps doing this.
Did You Know?
A new study of the Gombe chimps shows that young females and males learn to fish for termites differently. Female chimps learn to fish termites earlier and better than the young males. Females also spend more time fishing while at the mounds with their mothers -- males spend more time playing. It all works out in the end. When they are adults, females need more termite protein because with young chimps to care for they can't hunt the way males can. And the males, when they play more, are practicing important skills that they will need to compete with other males as adults.
Have a conversation with your friends about the ways in which human beings and animals are the same and the ways in which they're different. Do you think animals have the same emotions as we do? Do they understand "good" and "bad"? How do the animals you know communicate? Do you think animals can plan ahead?