Monkeys use tools to forage
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Monkeys use tools to forage

From Conrad Knauer
December 2004

LONDON - Wild capuchin monkeys can understand cause and effect well enough to use rocks to dig for food, scientists have found.

Capuchin monkeys often use tools and solve problems in captivity and sometimes in the wild, but this is the first documented evidence of routine use of tools, British researchers say.

The findings suggest there is a smaller intelligence gap than thought between apes and monkeys.

Biological anthropologists Antonio Moura of Darwin College and Phyllis Lee of the University of Cambridge observed the monkeys at Serra da Capivara National Park in northeastern Brazil and videotaped the activities.

The monkeys mainly used fist-sized stones to dig for uncover tubers, roots or insects. No other primates in the wild or captivity are known to use tools this way, the pair said.

Between October 2000 and March 2002, capuchins used tools for a variety of reasons, including:

* Crack seeds.
* Break tubers into bite-sized pieces.
* Dig for prey such as lizards.
* Flush out insects.
* Find water and honey.

"Monkeys typically held the stone with one hand and hit the ground quickly three to six times while simultaneously scooping away the soil with the other hand," the researchers wrote in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

The monkeys can be taught to use simple tools, but researchers speculated they didn't need to wield rocks in the wild, where food is abundant.

Moura and Lee saw capuchins using rocks during the dry season, when food becomes scarce for the primates.

At least two different groups of monkeys living kilometres apart were seen using the food-gathering tools.

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