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Endangered Monkeys Invent New Fishing Method

Blonde Capuchin

The Huffington Post   First Posted: 03/11/11 09:09 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 07:35 PM ET

Monkeys are apparently quite good at fishing… for termites. New observations have found that blonde capuchin monkeys have invented a “fishing pole” method to capture termites from tree nests.

The new method was reported in the recent Royal Society Biology Letters. Scientists observed that a monkey first taps the side of a termite nest, then breaks off a small tree branch. The monkey then rotates the branch, sticks it into the nest, and retrieves termites for consumption.

According to Discovery News, these actions are innovative for two reasons. First, by tapping the side of the nest, termites are on high alert. Scientists predict that when the stick enters the nest, they swarm to it, prepared to attack. (Although, apparently they aren't prepared enough, since they are then eaten!) This method is also smart because rotating the stick helps to create a hole in the nest -- the rotation movement acts similarly to a drill. According to the journal report, "Remarkable manual skills linked to a varied diet seem important in promoting tool use in different contexts.”

Scientists believe that after one monkey discovered the technique, others observed and followed suit. The technique is now considered to be one of the best methods for termite fishing. Even humans who tried the monkeys’ method found it to work well -- certain human cultures eat termites.

Unfortunately, the monkeys are critically endangered. There are only about 180 blonde capuchins remaining in the world. According to the IUCN Red List, blonde capuchins are threatened by habitat loss, fragmentation, and hunting. The monkeys are often fragmented by coastal development, and the animals are hunted to become both food and pets.

The report’s lead author, Antonio Souto, hopes that the blonde capuchins will have their forest habitat protected, with “an aggressive campaign on environmental education” to ensure that these innovative animals do not disappear forever.

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