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Bonobos can crack nuts with stones: Nothing science story of the year?

bonobos cracking nuts/ Johanna Neufuss

In the running, anyway. From ScienceDaily:

A first of its kind study from the University of Kent found that wild-born, rehabilitated bonobos (Pan paniscus) can be efficient nut-crackers with a skill level not that different from wild chimpanzees.

Conducted by Johanna Neufuss from the University’s School of Anthropology and Conservation, with the results published in the American Journal of Primatology, the research analysed the behaviour of 18 bonobos that have been cracking nuts for at least two decades at the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Unlike chimpanzees — sister species to the bonobo — bonobos rarely use even simple tools in the wild. Only a few studies have reported tool-use in captive bonobos, including their ability to crack nuts, but details of this complex tool-use behaviour have not been documented before.

However, the Kent study has revealed a much greater diversity of manipulative ability than previously considered including fifteen grips to hold hammerstones, ten of which have not been observed in any other nonhuman primates including chimpanzees and capuchin monkeys. Paper. (paywall) – Johanna Neufuss, Tatyana Humle, Andrea Cremaschi, Tracy L. Kivell. Nut-cracking behaviour in wild-born, rehabilitated bonobos (Pan paniscus): a comprehensive study of hand-preference, hand grips and efficiency. American Journal of Primatology, 2016; DOI: 10.1002/ajp.22589More.

Actually, we have heard this story, more or less, before. One enterprising group claims that bonobos use tools on a ”pre-agricultural” level, which is somewhat like saying that a vacant lot is a “pre-garden.” It assumes a future that may never take place and may never be able to. But yes, they do use stones to smash things, as the other variety of chimpanzee (Troglodytes) does.

In any event, some birds, squid, and fish can use tools. Tool use is not an expected predictor of intelligence in any systematic way, though it is often marketed that way to the pop science public.

More significantly, monkeys and apes often score more poorly on many “mind” or “intelligence” issues than some other vertebrates.

The story that matters is: Why is animal intelligence not more closely tied to presumed evolutionary development? And why does it never amount to anything like or even approaching human intelligence? But we can be sure that—until Darwin is safely in the past—few or none dare go there. The Royal Society should have a rethinking evolution meeting every year, not just this year, until more of these problems get a chance to be aired honestly.

Otherwise, we are just going to be stuck at the level of pop science drama claims.

See also: Are apes entering the Stone Age? (No)

Furry, feathery, and finny animals speak their minds


Matching Darwin’s Tree of Life, the tree of intelligence comes crashing down.

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