A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘chimpanzees

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • In an extended meditation, Antipope’s Charlie Stross considers what the domestic architecture of the future will look like. What different technologies, with different uses of space, will come into play?
  • Bad Astronomer Phil Plait looks at the new SPECULOOS exoplanet hunting telescope, specializing in the search for planets around the coolest stars.
  • The Crux looks at the evolutionary origins of hominins and chimpanzees in an upright walking ape several million years ago.
  • D-Brief notes the multiple detections of gravitational waves made by LIGO.
  • The Dragon’s Tales looks at the development of laser weapons by China.
  • Karen Sternheimer at the Everyday Sociology Blog looks at the gap between social theory and field research.
  • Gizmodo shares an interesting discussion with paleontologists and other dinosaur experts: What would the dinosaurs have become if not for the Chixculub impact?
  • Hornet Stories notes the ways in which the policies of the Satanic Temple would be good for queer students.
  • io9 notes how the Deep Space 9 documentary What We Leave Behind imagines what a Season 8 would have looked like.
  • Joe. My. God. reports that activist Jacob Wohl is apparently behind allegations of a sexual assault by Pete Buttigieg against a subordinate.
  • JSTOR Daily takes a look at the uses of the yellow ribbon in American popular culture.
  • Language Hat shares an account of the life experiences of an Israeli taxi driver, spread across languages and borders.
  • Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns and Money makes deserved fun of Bret Easton Ellis for his claims to having been marginalized.
  • Marginal Revolution considers, briefly, the idea that artificial intelligence might not be harmful to humans. (Why would it necessarily have to be?)
  • The NYR Daily considers a British exhibition of artworks by artists from the former Czechoslovakia.
  • Peter Rukavina looks at gender representation in party caucuses in PEI from the early 1990s on, noting the huge surge in female representation in the Greens now.
  • The Signal looks at how the Library of Congress is preserving Latin American monographs.
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel explains how Einstein knew that gravity must bend light.
  • Window on Eurasia explains the sharp drop in the ethnic Russian population of Tuva in the 1990s.

[NEWS] Five science links: global warming, chimpanzees, bears, water in the UK, US high-speed rail

  • Vice interviews David Wallace Wells about his frightening new book, The Uninhabitable Earth.
  • Chimpanzee cultures are being threatened by the effects of global warming, Motherboard reports.
  • At least some bears are apparently capable of mimicking the faces of others, perhaps indicating a high level of intelligence. Motherboard reports.
  • In a mere 25 years, the United Kingdom may face serious water shortages thanks to climate change. (The hypothetical secession of Scotland, meanwhile, would make things even worse for England.) Motherboard reports.
  • This article at Engineering explains the economic and legal factors explaining why the United States, unlike the EU or China, lacks much high-speed passenger rail.

[NEWS] Five science links: Gulf of St. Lawrence, ocean uranium, chimpanzees, parrots, Lunar Gateway

  • The study of the changing environment of the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence is explored in this article, over at Global News.
  • A new process for extracting uranium from seawater makes nuclear energy still more viable. Forbes has it.
  • A recent study of chimpanzee groups in central Africa has found evidence of regional variations in their material culture. Phys.org has it.
  • Opium poppy farmers in India are forced to defend their fields against parrots addicted to their crops. VICE reports.
  • CBC explores the Lunar Gateway project that Canada is newly involved in.

[LINK] “Mysterious Chimpanzee Behavior May Be Evidence of “Sacred” Rituals”

The Dragon’s Tales linked to a remarkable paper, “Chimpanzee accumulative stone throwing”.

The study of the archaeological remains of fossil hominins must rely on reconstructions to elucidate the behaviour that may have resulted in particular stone tools and their accumulation. Comparatively, stone tool use among living primates has illuminated behaviours that are also amenable to archaeological examination, permitting direct observations of the behaviour leading to artefacts and their assemblages to be incorporated. Here, we describe newly discovered stone tool-use behaviour and stone accumulation sites in wild chimpanzees reminiscent of human cairns. In addition to data from 17 mid- to long-term chimpanzee research sites, we sampled a further 34 Pan troglodytes communities. We found four populations in West Africa where chimpanzees habitually bang and throw rocks against trees, or toss them into tree cavities, resulting in conspicuous stone accumulations at these sites. This represents the first record of repeated observations of individual chimpanzees exhibiting stone tool use for a purpose other than extractive foraging at what appear to be targeted trees. The ritualized behavioural display and collection of artefacts at particular locations observed in chimpanzee accumulative stone throwing may have implications for the inferences that can be drawn from archaeological stone assemblages and the origins of ritual sites.

The full paper is accessible via the link above.

One of the authors, Laura Kehoe, wrote an extended article for Scientific American.

We paused at a clearing in the bush. I let out a sigh of relief that no thorns appeared to be within reach, but why had we stopped? I made my way to the front of the group to ask the chief of the village and our legendary guide, Mamadou Alioh Bah. He told me he had found something interesting—some innocuous markings on a tree trunk. Something that most of us wouldn’t have even noticed in the complex and messy environment of a savannah had stopped him in his tracks. Some in our group of six suggested that wild pigs had made these marks, while scratching up against the tree trunk, others suggested it was teenagers messing around.

But Alioh had a hunch—and when a man that can find a single fallen chimp hair on the forest floor and can spot chimps kilometres away with his naked eye better than you can (with expensive binoculars) as a hunch, you listen to that hunch. We set up a camera trap in the hope that whatever made these marks would come back and do it again, but this time we would catch it all on film.

[. . .]

What we saw on this camera was exhilarating—a large male chimp approaches our mystery tree and pauses for a second. He then quickly glances around, grabs a huge rock and flings it full force at the tree trunk.

Nothing like this had been seen before and it gave me goose bumps. Jane Goodall first discovered wild chimps using tools in the 1960s. Chimps use twigs, leaves, sticks and some groups even use spears in order to get food. Stones have also been used by chimps to crack open nuts and cut open large fruit. Occasionally, chimps throw rocks in displays of strength to establish their position in a community.

But what we discovered during our now-published study wasn’t a random, one-off event, it was a repeated activity with no clear link to gaining food or status—it could be a ritual. We searched the area and found many more sites where trees had similar markings and in many places piles of rocks had accumulated inside hollow tree trunks—reminiscent of the piles of rocks archaeologists have uncovered in human history.

Videos poured in. Other groups working in our project began searching for trees with tell-tale markings. We found the same mysterious behaviour in small pockets of Guinea Bissau, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire but nothing east of this, despite searching across the entire chimp range from the western coasts of Guinea all the way to Tanzania.

This, surely, is proof of chimpanzee minds.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 1, 2016 at 6:01 pm

[LINK] “Chimpanzee language claims lost in translation, researchers conclude”

The Dragon’s Tales linked to this press release.

Research published earlier this year claiming chimpanzees can learn each others’ language is not supported, a team of scientists concludes after reviewing the study.

The scholarship in question, published in the journal Current Biology in February, centered on the examination of two sets of chimpanzees in the Edinburgh Zoo: one that had been captive for several years in the facility and one that had recently arrived from the Beekse Bergen Safari Park in the Netherlands. Over a three-year period, the researchers claimed that the latter set had altered their sounds to those of the former set when communicating about a common object, apples, resulting in what they saw as a newly shared vocalization.

The original study team, which included faculty from the University of York, the University of Zurich, and the University of St. Andrews, posited that the findings “provide the first evidence for vocal learning in a referential call in non-humans.” This was offered as evidence that chimpanzees can learn different calls for the same object, which was widely interpreted as an important finding for the study of language evolution.

But a review of the Current Biology study by researchers at the German Primate Center in Göttingen, the University of Kent, and New York University, suggests these conclusions are off-base.

“There are a number of problems with the original study,” observes James Higham, an assistant professor in NYU’s Department of Anthropology and a co-author of the new analysis, which also appears in Current Biology. “Some of these relate to the methods used while others are fundamentally a misrepresentation of what the data actually show.”

Written by Randy McDonald

November 10, 2015 at 10:27 pm

[LINK] “Wild chimps learn from others to make new tools”

CBC reports on a recent paper suggesting that chimpanzees, like humans, can transmit elements of material culture between each other. We all learn, and share.

It’s not just humans who want the latest gadget. Wild chimpanzees that see a friend making and using a nifty new kind of tool are likely to make one for themselves, scientists report.

“Our study adds new evidence supporting the hypothesis that some of the behavioural diversity seen in wild chimpanzees is the result of social transmission and can therefore be interpreted as cultural,” an international research team writes today in the journal PLOS Biology.

The findings suggest that the ability of individuals to learn from one another originated long ago in a common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans, the researchers add.

“This study tells us that chimpanzee culture changes over time, little by little, by building on previous knowledge found within the community,” said Thibaud Gruber, a co-author of the study, in a statement. “This is probably how our early ancestors’ cultures also changed over time.”

Scientists already knew that chimpanzees in different groups have certain behaviours unique to their group, such as using a particular kind of tool. They suspected that wild chimpanzees learn those behaviours from other chimpanzees within their group, as scientists have observed in captive chimps. But they could never be sure.

The new study documents the spread of two new behaviours among chimpanzees living in Uganda’s Budongo Forest. It shows that chimps learned one of them — the making and use of a new tool called a moss sponge — by observing other chimps who had already adopted the behaviour. Chimps dip the tool in water and then put it in their mouth to drink.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 1, 2014 at 11:04 pm

[LINK] “Scientists Translate Chimpanzee and Bonobo Gestures That Resemble Human Language”

Wired‘s Brandon Keim reports on claims by scientists to have observed what might be proto-language among chimpanzees, one based on gestures.

It will be interesting to watch this develop. It is noteworthy that chimpanzees can’t speak because they’re physically unable to, and that other primates like the famous Koko the gorilla have mastered sign language. What was going on unnoticed in the wild?

Scientists have described the communications of chimpanzees and bonobos in new and unsurpassed detail, offering a lexicon for our closest living relatives and even a glimpse into the origins of human language.

The research, contained in two new studies published July 3 in Current Biology, focuses on physical gestures. These are the primary form of communication in bonobos and chimps, used more readily than vocalizations.

One study describes how a certain bonobo gesture conveys an informational complexity not previously observed in non-human great apes. The other study identifies the meanings of no fewer than 36 chimpanzee gestures.

“What we’ve shown is a very rich system of many different meanings,” said primatologist Richard Byrne of Scotland’s University of St. Andrews, co-author of the chimpanzee study. “We have the closest thing to human language that you can see in nature.”

Byrne’s co-author, fellow University of St. Andrews primatologist Catherine Hobaiter, spent 18 months observing a group of chimpanzees in the Budongo Forest Reserve in western Kenya. Hobaiter painstakingly documented more than 4,500 gestures in 3,400 incidents of chimp-to-chimp gesturing, noting both the motions used and the responses of nearby chimps.

Subsequent statistical analysis boiled those observations down to 36 established gestures and 15 clear-cut meanings. (Multiple gestures are sometimes used for the same purpose, perhaps conveying some not-yet-understood nuance.) Stomping two feet, for example, is used to initiate play. Reaching means, “I want that,” and an air-hug embrace is a request for contact.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 4, 2014 at 7:33 pm