, Volume 54, Issue 4, pp 385–397 | Cite as

Chimpanzees detect ant-inhabited dead branches and stems: a study of the utilization of plant–ant relationships in the Mahale Mountains, Tanzania

  • Mieko FuseEmail author
Original Article


Chimpanzees in the Mahale Mountains of Tanzania consume several species of stem- and branch-inhabiting ants throughout the year, without tools. Those ants are cryptic species, and it was unknown how to find them constantly. There has been little research on how the chimpanzees locate these ants. In this study, I use behavioral observations of the chimpanzee predators and surveys of the ant fauna and plants across different habitats to test the hypothesis that chimpanzees use plant species as a cue to efficiently locate ant colonies in litter units (dead parts of the plant). Ants were found to be associated with live plants and with spaces within litter units which provide nesting places. Such ant–plant litter relationships were not necessarily as strong as the mutualism often observed between live plants and ants. The proportion of available litter units inhabited by ants was 20 %, and litter units of three plant species (Vernonia subligera, Dracaena usambarensis, and Senna spectabilis) were well occupied by ants in the home range of the chimpanzees. The ant-inhabited ratio in chimpanzee-foraged litter units was higher than that in the available units in the home range. Chimpanzees fed more often on Crematogaster spp. than on other resident ants and at a higher rate than expected from their occurrence in the litter units. Above three plant species were well occupied by Crematogaster sp. 3 or C. sp. 18. It is concluded that chimpanzees locate ants by selecting litter units of plant species inhabited by ants.


Chimpanzees Crematogaster Ants Foraging behavior Ant availability Litter units Mahale Mountains 



This study was financially supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) Grants-in-Aid for Science Research (A1; #16255007 to T.N.) and a Grant-in-Aid for JSPS Fellows (#172270). I thank the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology, Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), and the Mahale Mountains Wildlife Research Centre. I am grateful to T. Nemoto for support and encouragement, and to T. Nishida, S. Uehara, N. Nakagawa, M. Nakamura, R. Tsujino, G. Hanya, and J. Yamagiwa for their useful comments. Thanks are due to N. Itoh, K. Zamma, H. Nishie, S. Hanamura, and Mahale research members for helpful suggestions. Thanks for identification of ants to S. Yamane and S. Hosoishi. Also thanks to M. Nakatsuka and Luke Dilley for reading the text and encouragement. Lastly, this research could not have been done without the help of the Tongwe assistants.


  1. Altmann J (1974) Observation study of behavior: sampling methods. Behavior 49:227–267CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Atsalis S (1999) Diet of the Brown Mouse Lemur (Microcebus rufus) in Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar. Int J Primates 20(2):193–229CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Berg B, McCalaugherty C (2003) Plant litter—decomposition, human formation, carbon sequestration. Springer, TokyoGoogle Scholar
  4. Boesch C, Boesch H (1990) Tool Use and tool making in wild chimpanzees. Folia Primatol 54:86–99PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Erickson CJ (1995) Feeding sites for extractive foraging by the aye-aye, Daubentonia madagascariensis. Am J Primatol 35:235–240CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Goodall J (1986) Feeding. In: Goodall J (ed) The chimpanzees of Gombe. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, pp 231–266Google Scholar
  7. Gursky S (2000) Effect of seasonality on the behavior an insectivorous primate, Tarsius spectrum. Int J Primatol 21(3):488–495CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Hill DA, Lucas PW, Cheng PY (1995) Bite forces used by Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata yakui) on Yakushima Island, Japan to open aphid-induces galls on Distylium racemosum (Hamamelidaceae). J Zool Lond 237:57–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hölldobler B, Wilson EO (1990) Symbioses between ants and plants. In: Hölldobler B, Wilson EO (eds) The ants. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, pp 530–556CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Humle T, Matsuzawa T (2002) Ant-dipping among the chimpanzees of Bossou, Guinea, and some comparisons with other sites. Am J Primatol 71:40–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Isbell LA (1998) Diet for a small primate: insectivory and gummivory in the (large) patas monkey (Erythrocebus patas pyrrhonotus). Am J Primatol 45(4):381–398PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Isbell LA, Young TP (2007) Interspecific and temporal variation of ant species within Acacia drepanolobium ant domatia, a staple food of patas monkeys (Erythrocebus patas) in Laikipia, Kenya. Am J Primatol 69(12):1387–1398PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Itoh N (2002) The list of the woody species identified in the study area. In: Nishida T, Uehara S, Kawanaka K (eds) The Mahale chimpanzees: thirty seven years of “panthropology”. Kyoto University Academic Press, Kyoto, pp 472–479Google Scholar
  14. Kavanagh M (1978) The diet and feeding behavior of Cercopithecus aethiops tantalus. Folia Primatol 30:30–63PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kawanaka K (1990) Age differences in ant-eating by adult and adolescent males. In: Nishida T (ed) The chimpanzees of the Mahale Mountains. University of Tokyo Press, Tokyo, pp 207–222Google Scholar
  16. Marlier JF, Quinet Y, de Biseau JC (2004) Defensive behavior and biological activities of the abdominal secretion in the ant Crematogaster scutellaris (Hymenoptera: Myrmicinae). Behav Process 67:427–440CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. McGrew WC (2001) The other faunivory: primate insectivory and early human diet. In: Stanford CB, Burn HT (eds) Meat-eating and human evolution. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 160–178Google Scholar
  18. McGrew WC (2004) Chimpanzee material culture. In: The cultured chimpanzee-Reflections on cultural primatology. Cambridge Press, pp 103–130Google Scholar
  19. Nishida T (1972) The ant-gathering behavior by the use of tools among wild chimpanzees of the Mahali Mountains. J Hum Evol 2:357–370CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Nishida T (ed) (1990) The chimpanzee of the Mahale Mountains: sexual and life history strategies. University of Tokyo Press, TokyoGoogle Scholar
  21. Nishida T, Hiraiwa M (1982) Natural history of a tool-using behavior by wild chimpanzees in feeding upon wood-boring ants. J Hum Evol 11:73–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Nishida T, Uehara S (1981) Kitongwe name of plants: a preliminary listing. Afr Study Monogr 1:109–131Google Scholar
  23. Nishida T, Uehara S (1983) Natural diet of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii): long-term Record from the Mahale Mountains, Tanzania. Afr Study Monogr 3:109–130Google Scholar
  24. Nishie H (2011) Natural history of Camponotus ant-fishing by the M group chimpanzees at the Mahale Mountains National Park, Tanzania. Primates 52(4):329–342PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. O'Malley RC, Wallauer W, Murray CM, Goodall J (2012) The appearance and spread of ant fishing among the kasekela chimpanzees of Gombe. Curr Anthropol 53(5):650–663Google Scholar
  26. Panger MA, Perry S, Rose L, Gros-Louis J, Vogel E, Mackinnon KC, Baker M (2002) Cross-site differences in foraging behavior of white-faced capuchins (Cebus capucinus). Am J Phys Anthropol 119(2):52–66PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Redford KH (1987) Ants and termites as food patterns of mammalian myrmecophagy. In: Genoways HH (ed) Current mammalogy. Plenum Press, New York, pp 349–399CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Sanz CM, Schöning C, Morgan DB (2010) Chimpanzees prey on army ants with specialized tool set. Am J Primatol 72(1):17–24PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Schöning C, Humle T, Möbius Y, McGrew WC (2008) The nature of culture: technological variation in chimpanzee predation on army ants revisited. J Hum Evol 55(1):48–59PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Turner LA (2006) Vegetation and chimpanzee ranging in the Mahale Mountains National Park, Tanzania. Memoirs of the Faculty of Science, Kyoto University Series of Biology 18:45–82Google Scholar
  31. Uehara S (1986) Sex and group differences in feeding on animals by wild chimpanzees in the Mahale Mountains National Park, Tanzania. Primates 27(1):1–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Yamakoshi G, Myowa-Yamakoshi M (2004) New observations of ant-dipping techniques in wild chimpanzees at Bossou, Guinea. Primates 45:25–32PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Yamamoto S, Yamakoshi G, Humle T, Matsuzawa T (2008) Invention and modification of a new tool use behavior: ant-fishing in trees by a wild chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes verus) at Bossou, Guinea. Am J Primatol 70:699–702PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Young H, Fedigan LM, Addicott JF (2008) Look before leaping: foraging selectivity of capuchin monkeys on acacia trees in Costa Rica. Oecologia 155:85–92PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Japan Monkey Centre and Springer Japan 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Kyoto UniversityKyotoJapan

Personalised recommendations