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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 April, 2004, 09:06 GMT 10:06 UK
Young female chimps upstage males
Chimp and tool, BBC
Chimps fashion stalks and twigs to get inside termite mounds
It would seem young female chimpanzees take their studies a little more seriously than their male classmates, a study in the journal Nature has shown.

Females learn from their mothers how to gather termites much faster than males - who prefer to spend more of their time playing, US scientists say.

Elizabeth Lonsdorf and colleagues conducted their research on wild chimps in Tanzania's Gombe National Park.

They say the gender differences are similar to those seen in young humans.

Girls and boys pick up fine motor skills such as writing at different rates, and the team suggests its research could therefore indicate that sex-based learning differences may have an ancient origin.

Educationalists trying to develop learning strategies for children could find the work instructive, the scientists believe.

"This finding is a heads-up to researchers studying the learning of relatively complex skills that they should take sex into account," said Dr Lonsdorf, the director of field conservation at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

Later roles

In a four-year-long field study, the team observed 14 young chimps and their mothers engaged in the practice of "fishing" termites out of mounds with tools made from vegetation.

The research found the females learnt the skills earlier, spent more time at it and tended to catch more termites with each try.

The young males spent a lot of their time playing and swinging around - behaviours the team says may help them in typically male adult activities later in life, such as hunting and struggling for dominance.

"The availability of animal protein is limited for chimpanzees. They can fish for termites or hunt colobus monkeys," explained Dr Lonsdorf, who caried out the study with Lynn Eberly and Anne Pusey.

"Mature males often hunt monkeys up in the trees, but females are almost always either pregnant or burdened with a clinging infant.

"This makes hunting difficult. But termites are a rich source of protein and fat. Females can fish for termites and watch their offspring at the same time.

"Adult females spend more time fishing for termites than males do. The young of both sexes seem to pursue activities related to their adult sex roles at a very young age."

Monkeying around on company time
09 Apr 04  |  Magazine
New light shed on chimp genome
05 Apr 04  |  Science/Nature
Chimps genetically close to humans
20 May 03  |  Science/Nature

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