60-Second Science

Nut-Cracking Chimps Demonstrate Cultural Differences

A chimpanzee's tool choice for cracking nuts depends on its community. Sophie Bushwick reports

One family generally dines on Chinese takeout while their neighbors eat home-cooked meatloaf. You say potato, I say potahto. And humans aren’t the only primate species with cultural differences: even in the same environment, different groups of chimpanzees use different tools. The work is in Current Biology. [Lydia V. Luncz, Roger Mundry and Christophe Boesch, "Evidence for Cultural Differences between Neighboring Chimpanzee Communities"]

Chimps living in a national park in Cote d’Ivoire like eating Coula nuts. They hammer them open with stone or wood. At the beginning of the season, the nutshells are harder. So you might expect all the chimps in the forest to initially use stone hammers and then switch to easy-to-find wooden tools when the nut-cracking requires less force.

But researchers examined the tool use of three different chimpanzee communities—and found that despite sharing genes and a habitat, each group chose their hammers differently.

For example, one group preferred stone hammers throughout the Coula nut season. Another gradually transitioned from primarily stone to primarily wooden tools. And the third community switched from stone to wood more quickly. Hammer size also varied from group to group.

As a chimp might explain, you say tomato, I say [chimpanzee calls].

—Sophie Bushwick

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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