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Student Prize Award Abstract
2003 Oral Paper Honorable Mention

DEVELOPMENT OF TERMITE-FISHING SKILLS IN THE GOMBE CHIMPANZEES

E. V. Lonsdorf1,2
1Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL, 60614, USA, 2Jane Goodall Institute's Center for Primate Studies, University of Minnesota

By the age of 5.5 years, all of the young chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) of Gombe National Park, Tanzania have acquired a skill known as “termite-fishing”. Termite-fishing involves inserting flexible tools made from vegetation into a termite mound and extracting the termites that attack and cling to the tool. I performed a four-year longitudinal field study during which I observed and videotaped young chimpanzees’ (n=14: 8 males, 6 females) development of the termite-fishing behavior. Due to new births and aging, not all individuals were followed in all years. However, five females and five males were followed for at least three years. Using a combination of non-parametric statistical tests and general linear models, I found sex differences in the speed of development, with females successfully termite-fishing an average of 19 months earlier than males. In older offspring that have already acquired the skill, females (n=6) are more proficient than males (n=6), and therefore acquire more termites per fishing attempt. In addition, I found that focal chimpanzee mothers have individual differences in technique as measured by preferred insertion depth of tools used. Female offspring resemble their mothers in termite-fishing technique, whereas male offspring do not. These results suggest that male and female offspring differ in the social learning processes used to acquire the termite-fishing skill.


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