, Volume 55, Issue 2, pp 173-178
Date: 13 Feb 2014

Chimpanzee insectivory in the northern half of Uganda’s Rift Valley: do Bulindi chimpanzees conform to a regional pattern?

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Abstract

Insects are a nutritious food source for many primates. In chimpanzees, insectivory is most prevalent among communities that manufacture tools to harvest social insects, particularly ants and termites. In contrast to other long-term study sites, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) in Budongo Forest and Kibale National Park, Uganda, rarely eat insects and have small foraging tool kits, supporting speculation that infrequent insectivory—technically aided or otherwise—characterises chimpanzees in this part of Uganda’s Rift Valley. To expand the dataset for this region, insect foraging was investigated at Bulindi (25 km from Budongo) over 19 months during two studies in 2007–2008 and 2012–2013. Systematic faecal analysis demonstrated that insectivory is a habitual foraging activity at this site. Overall levels of insect consumption varied considerably across months but were not predicted by monthly changes in rainfall or fruit intake. Unlike their Budongo and Kibale counterparts, Bulindi chimpanzees often consume ants (principally weaver ants, Oecophylla longinoda) and use sticks to dig out stingless bee (Meliponini) ground nests. In other respects, however, insectivory at Bulindi conforms to the pattern observed elsewhere in this region: they do not manufacture ‘fishing’ or ‘dipping’ tools to harvest termites and aggressive or hard-to-access ants (e.g., army ants, Dorylus spp.), despite availability of suitable prey. The Bulindi data lend support to the supposition that chimpanzees in this part of the Rift Valley rarely exploit termites and Dorylus ants, apparently lacking the ‘cultural knowledge’ that would enable them to do so most efficiently (i.e., tool use). The study’s findings contribute to current debates about the relative influence of genetics, environment and culture in shaping regional and local variability in Pan foraging ecology.