Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) predation on army ants (Dorylus, subgenus Anomma) is an impressive example of skillful use of elementary technology, and it has been suggested to reflect cultural differences among chimpanzee communities. Alternatively, the observed geographic diversity in army-ant-eating may represent local behavioral responses of the chimpanzees to the anti-predator traits of the army ant species present at the different sites. We examined assemblages of available prey species, their behavior and morphology, consumption by chimpanzees, techniques employed, and tool lengths at 14 sites in eastern, central, and western Africa. Where army ants are eaten, tool length and concomitant technique are a function of prey type. Epigaeically foraging species with aggressive workers that inflict painful bites are harvested with longer tools and usually by the "pull-through" technique; species foraging in leaf-litter with less aggressive workers that inflict less painful bites are harvested with short tools and by the "direct-mouthing" technique. However, prey species characteristics do not explain several differences in army-ant-eating between Bossou (Guinea) and Taï (Ivory Coast), where the same suite of prey species is available and is consumed. Moreover, the absence of army-ant-eating at five sites cannot be explained by the identity of available prey species, as all the species found at these sites are eaten elsewhere. We conclude that some of the observed variation in the predator-prey relationship of chimpanzees and army ants reflects environmental influences driven by the prey, while other variation is not linked to prey characteristics and may be solely sociocultural.
- Army ants
- Tool use