Spontaneous use of tools as straws in great apes

Abstract

Great apes can use multiple tools to extract food embedded in substrates and can invent new ways to exploit those resources. We tested five bonobos, five chimpanzees, and six orangutans in a task in which they had to use (and modify) a tool as a straw to drink the juice located inside a container. Experiment 1 showed that four orangutans and one chimpanzee invented the use of a piece of electric cable to get the juice. Experiment 2 investigated whether subjects could transform a non-functional hose into a functional one by removing blockages that impeded the free flow of juice. Orangutans outperformed chimpanzees and bonobos by differentially removing those blockages that prevented the flow of juice, often doing so before attempting to extract the juice. In Experiment 3, we presented chimpanzees and orangutans with four 3-tool sets (each tool set contained a single straw-like tool) and allowed them to select one tool. Unlike chimpanzees, orangutans succeeded in selecting the straw-like tool above chance levels without having to physically manipulate it. We suggest that orangutans’ superior performance is related to their greater reliance on mouth actions during foraging. Experiment 4 investigated whether orangutans were also capable of selecting the suitable tool not by its appearance, but by the effects that it produced. After witnessing the experimenter blow bubbles or absorb liquid with a functional tool but fail to accomplish the same thing with the non-functional tool, orangutans failed to select the functional tool above chance levels.

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Acknowledgments

Héctor Marín Manrique was supported by a postdoctoral contract funded by the Spanish “Programa de Ayuda a la Movilidad del Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovacion (Micinn)”.

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Correspondence to Héctor Marín Manrique.

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Manrique, H.M., Call, J. Spontaneous use of tools as straws in great apes. Anim Cogn 14, 213–226 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-010-0355-4

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Keywords

  • Problem solving
  • Innovation
  • Tool properties
  • Tool making