'I know I was writing stories when I was five. I don't know what I did before that. Just loafed I suppose.'
P. G. Wodehouse
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Plant seeds aren't always easy to get too.The Tufted Capuchin monkeys of the Amazon Basin have an amazing adaptation. These monkeys have learned to use stones tools to get to their food.
The nut palms seeds have a hard layer of fiber-like layer much like the coconut. This is to keep unwanted animals out. But the Tufted Capuchins have a solution to this. First they look for the ripest seed. They need the ripest seeds because after they strip the fibrous layer, they let the seeds bask in the sun for up to one week.
Once the seeds are dry, the Capuchin brings the nut(s) to his 'anvil' which is a flat rock. These usually have lots of pock marks from previous smashings. On the 'anvil' is heavy rock or the 'hammer'. He lifts the 'hammer' and brings it down on the nut. The monkey does this a few times till the nut breaks and he can eat the oily seed.
The young monkeys (who would be toddlers in human years) imitate the adult monkeys, which is similar to what human children do. This is how the monkeys learn, but this is not accidents. The monkey's rocks sometimes fall off the 'anvil and fingers are sure to be squashed. It can take up to 8 years to master the art of nut breaking.
Other tools the Capuchins use include containers to hold water, sticks (e.g to dig nuts, to dip for syrup, to catch ants, to reach food) using sponges to absorb juice, using stones as hammer and chisel to penetrate a barrier and using stones as hammers and and to crack nuts.
While some of these tasks are relatively simple by cognitive standards (e.g. using a stick to catch ants), others, like cracking nuts with 'hammers' and 'anvils' are only exceeded in complexity by chimpanzee.
But, even though the Capuchin monkeys had to adapt to make these tools it does not imply that they understand cause and affect. It merely means that the monkeys are only able to learn from successful efforts but not from failures. It also means that they can not/ do not refine or improve much.
This is one example of the amazing and unique adaptations of life.