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17 Nov 2023

Fishing chimpanzees found to enjoy termites as a seasonal treat

by Angharad Brewer Gillham, Frontiers science writer Image/Seth Phillips Termites are a crucial source of nutrients for chimpanzees, who fish for them with tools, but they’re not always accessible. Now, researchers copying chimpanzee tools and techniques have shown that chimpanzees living in western Tanzania can only reliably fish for termites in the early wet season, when other foods are abundant. These chimpanzees fish for termites because they can, not because they need to. The results raise the possibility that chimpanzees could even be predicting termite availability before they go fishing. The discovery that chimpanzees use tools to fish for termites revolutionized our understanding of their abilities — but we still don’t have crucial context to help us understand termite fishing and chimpanzee minds. Are chimpanzees fishing for a seasonal treat or trying their luck? Researchers based at the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) and University College London (UCL) investigated the relationship between termite availability and chimpanzee fishing. They found that termites are most available early in the wet season. Although other foods are abundant at that time, chimpanzees choose to termite fish then.   “I believe these results set up an interesting hypothesis about wild chimpanzee foraging cognition,” said […]