Grips and hand movements of chimpanzees during feeding in Mahale Mountains National Park, Tanzania

Mary W. Marzke*, Linda F. Marchant, William C. McGrew, Sandra P. Reece

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)


It has long been assumed that stone tool making was a major factor in the evolution of derived hominin hand morphology. However, stresses on the hand associated with food retrieval and processing also have been recognized as relevant early hominin behaviors that should be investigated. To this end, chimpanzee food manipulation was videotaped in the Mahale Mountains National Park, Tanzania. Grips and hand movements by 39 chimpanzees were analyzed for arboreal and terrestrial feeding involving 10 food-types and associated vegetation. It was predicted that (1) new grips would be found that had not been observed in captivity, (2) forceful precision grips would be absent from the repertoire, as in captivity, and (3) precision handling would be observed. New grips involving the full thumb and buttressed index finger, and a new integrated pattern of grips and forceful hand movements were discovered, associated with feeding on large fruits and meat. Participation of the full thumb in these grips, rather than the distal thumb and fingers, throws light on feeding behaviors that may have become increasingly significant factors in the evolution of derived hominin thumb morphology. The proximal thumb stabilizes food with the flexed index finger against the pull of the teeth and provides leverage in breaking food into portions. Isolated qualitative observations of possibly forceful pinch by the thumb and side of the index finger highlight the need for comparative quantitative data to test whether humans are unique in forceful precision gripping capability. Precision handling was not seen.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)317-326
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 3 Nov 2014


  • Manipulative behavior
  • Pan troglodytes
  • Precision grip
  • Thumb


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