Selective insectivory at Toro-Semliki, Uganda: Comparative analyses suggest no 'savanna' chimpanzee pattern

Timothy H. Webster*, William C. McGrew, Linda F. Marchant, Charlotte L.R. Payne, Kevin D. Hunt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) insectivory across Africa is ubiquitous. Insects provide a significant nutritional payoff and may be important for chimpanzees in dry, open habitats with narrow diets. We tested this hypothesis at Semliki, Uganda, a long-term dry study site. We evaluated prospects for insectivory by measuring insect abundance along de novo transects and trails, monitoring social insect colonies, and surveying available raw materials for elementary technology. We determined the frequency and nature of insectivory through behavioral observation and fecal analysis. We then compared our results with those from 15 other long-term chimpanzee study sites using a cluster analysis. We found that Semliki chimpanzees are one of the most insectivorous populations studied to date in terms of frequency of consumption, but they are very selective in their insectivory, regularly consuming only weaver ants (Oecophylla longinoda) and honey and bees from hives of Apis mellifera. This selectivity obtains despite having a full range of typical prey species available in harvestable quantities. We suggest that Semliki chimpanzees may face ecological time constraints and therefore bias their predation toward prey taxa that can be quickly consumed. Geographical proximity correlated with the results of the cluster analysis, while rainfall, a relatively gross measure of environment, did not. Because broad taxonomic groups of insects were used in analyses, prey availability was unlikely to have a strong effect on this pattern. Instead, we suggest that transmission of cultural knowledge may play a role in determining chimpanzee prey selection across Africa. Further study is needed to test these hypotheses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-27
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
Publication statusPublished - 5 Feb 2014


  • Diet
  • Entomophagy
  • Hymenoptera
  • Isoptera
  • Pan troglodytes
  • Predation


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