New observations have led researchers to believe that chimpanzees can use tools spontaneously to solve a task, without needing to watch others first.
The evidence of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) spontaneously using sticks to scoop food from water surfaces is published in the open-access journal PeerJ.
The results challenge the accepted belief that chimpanzees need to learn from each other how to use tools, and instead suggest that some (if not all) forms of tool-use are instead within their pre-existing behavioural repertoire (what the authors call “latent solutions”).
Elisa Bandini explained, “The commonly held belief is that chimpanzee behaviour is cultural, much like how human culture has been passed between groups. But if that was the case, the same behaviours should never re-occur in naïve subjects. Nobody, for example, could accurately reinvent extinct languages on the spot.”
Well, reinventing an extinct language is a higher bar than using a stick to get food, which many life forms can do.
Due to the close genetic ties between humans and chimpanzees, it is likely that naïve individuals also spontaneously invented some forms of early human material culture.
Dr Claudio Tennie added, “Given these results, the long-held assumption that apes must observe one another in order to show these behaviours may have been due to an illusion of cultural transmission — created by the apes arriving at the same behaviour independently.” Paper. (public access) – Elisa Bandini, Claudio Tennie. Spontaneous reoccurrence of “scooping”, a wild tool-use behaviour, in naïve chimpanzees. PeerJ, 2017; 5: e3814 DOI: 10.7717/peerj.3814 More.
It’s hard to know what to think here. The smart New Zealand crows do not apparently learn much from each other and their tasks in the experiments were much more complex than using a stick.
Overall, the furry is not winning out over the feathery, never mind entering the Stone Age.
See also: Smart crows don’t show much evidence of social learning
Ravens, crows, as smart as chimps
Are apes entering the Stone Age?