Social influences on ant-dipping acquisition in the wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) of Bossou, Guinea, West Africa.
Animal Cognition, 12, S37-S48., doi: 10.1007/s10071-009-0272-6
We currently have little understanding of the influence of learning opportunity, whether social or environmental, and maternal role on tool-use acquisition in young wild chimpanzees. This study aims to fill this gap by focusing on the acquisition of ant-dipping among chimpanzees of Bossou, Guinea. Ant-dipping is a hazardous tool-use behaviour aimed at army ants (Dorylus spp.). Bossou chimpanzees target these ants both at nests (high risk) and trails (low risk) and employ two techniques to consume them: direct mouthing and pull-through. We present data for 13 mother-offspring pairs (1-10 years old). Mothers with young ≤5 years old dipped significantly more often at trails than at nests, thus minimizing the risk posed to themselves and their young. Infants thus benefited from better conditions to observe and practice ant-dipping. Mothers also varied greatly in their percent time spent ant-dipping and offspring differed in their learning opportunity. Our results suggest that high opportunity young started to observe and perform ant-dipping sooner and were better at ant-dipping than low opportunity young. Although mothers and weaned offspring correlated positively in their percent time spent dipping and proficiency, they did not match in technique used or tool length. Finally, we propose that the learning trajectory of young may predict individual and sex differences in adulthood. This study demonstrates the important role of mothers and learning opportunity in the acquisition of a hazardous tool-use behaviour and suggests that chimpanzee material culture is a product of a complex interaction between social processes and ecological factors.
Ant-dipping, Chimpanzee, Culture, Learning, Sex difference, Tool use, Development