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Biol Lett. 2009 June 23; 5(3): 293–296.
Published online 2009 March 4. doi:  10.1098/rsbl.2008.0786
PMCID: PMC2679919

Design complexity in termite-fishing tools of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)


Adopting the approach taken with New Caledonian crows (Corvus moneduloides), we present evidence of design complexity in one of the termite-fishing tools of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) in the Goualougo Triangle, Republic of Congo. Prior to termite fishing, chimpanzees applied a set of deliberate, distinguishable actions to modify herb stems to fashion a brush-tipped probe, which is different from the form of fishing tools used by chimpanzees in East and West Africa. This means that ‘brush-tipped fishing probes’, unlike ‘brush sticks’, are not a by-product of use but a deliberate design feature absent in other chimpanzee populations. The specialized modifications to prepare the tool for termite fishing, measures taken to repair non-functional brushes and appropriate orientation of the modified end suggest that these wild chimpanzees are attentive to tool modifications. We also conducted experimental trials that showed that a brush-tipped probe is more effective in gathering insects than an unmodified fishing probe. Based on these findings, we suggest that chimpanzees in the Congo Basin have developed an improved fishing probe design.

Keywords: tool use, tool modification, cognitive template

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