Chimpanzees have often been cited as the closest cousins to human beings. Now, it seems, that chimpanzees might be closer than ever when it comes to behavior.
A new research article published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, points out that a group of chimpanzees have been observed crafting incredibly sharp spears for which they can stab and kill their prey. Images from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey of prehistoric apes fashioning weapons for the first time and using them to hunt and for warfare immediately come to mind. In fact, the article suggests that the origin of the chimpanzees using spears may have started with the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees.
The lead author of the article, Jill Pruetz, an Anthropology Professor at Iowa State University, described how the chimpanzees make their deadly weapons.
“The tools are made from living tree branches that are detached and then modified by removing all the side branches and leaves, as well as the flimsy terminal end of the branch. Some individuals further trim the tip of the tool with their teeth. They average about 75 centimeters (around 30 inches) in length.”
Pruetz’ team found the weapon making chimpanzees in southeastern Senegal, in West Africa. According to their article, the researchers watched the chimpanzees make the spears. The chimpanzees would then sneak up on bushbabies, which are small primates with large eyes, and ruthlessly stab them to death. The bushbabies are nocturnal, taking to snoozing in crevices in trees during the day. In so vulnerable a state, they made easy targets for the spear-wielding chimpanzees.
The researchers realized something else of interest as they watched the group of chimpanzees: it was primarily the females that fashioned, refined, and used the deadly spears. Pruetz and her team surmised that the males, often larger and stronger, depended less on any sort of tool.
Pruetz thinks that it was a woman who invented the first weapon.
“In a number of primate species, females are the innovators and more frequent tool users, so I think it is possible that a female invented this technique.”
To date, the Senegal chimpanzees, (located in an area called Fongoli), are the only non-human primates on the planet that systematically hunt large prey with weapons.
So what’s the next step in chimpanzee evolution? According to Biological anthropologist Travis Pickering at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the next step is coordinated hunting in groups.
“Hunting large animals in groups is advantageous because of increased vigilance – more eyes – and the potential to recruit others for defense if one hunter gets into trouble.”
[Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images]