A detailed analysis of tool use behaviors can disclose the underlying cognitive traits of the users. We investigated the technique used by wild chimpanzees to extract the underground nests of stingless bees (Meliplebeia lendliana), which represent a hard-to-reach resource given their highly undetectable location. Using remote-sensor camera trap footage, we analyzed 151 visits to 50 different bee nests by 18 adult chimpanzees of both sexes. We quantified the degree of complexity and flexibility of this technique by looking at the behavioral repertoire and at its structural organization. We used Generalized Linear Mixed Models to test whether individuals differed in their action repertoire sizes and in their action sequencing patterns, as well as in their preferences of use of different behavioral elements (namely, actions, and grip types). We found that subjects showed non-randomly organized sequences of actions and that the occurrence of certain actions was predicted by the type of the previous action in the sequences. Subjects did not differ in their repertoire sizes, and all used extractive actions involving tools more often than manual digging. As for the type of grip employed, the grip involving the coordinated use of hands and feet together was most frequently used by all subjects when perforating, and we detected significant individual preferences in this domain. Overall, we describe a highly complex and flexible extractive technique, and propose the existence of inter-individual variation in it. We discuss our results in the light of the evolution of higher cognitive abilities in the human lineage.
Keywords: complexity; flexibility; individual differences; tool use.
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