Humans can use hand tools smoothly and effectively in varying circumstances; in other words, skillfully. A few other species of primates crack encased foods using hammer tools and anvils. Are they skilled? Positioning the food on the anvil so that it does not fall off when struck is a component of skilled cracking. We discovered that bearded capuchin monkeys deliberately place palm nuts in a relatively stable position on the anvil before striking them. In the first experiment, we marked the meridians of palm nuts where they stopped when rolled on a flat surface ("Stop meridian"). We videotaped monkeys as they cracked these nuts on an anvil. In playback we coded the position of the Stop meridian prior to each strike. Monkeys typically knocked the nuts on the anvil a few times before releasing them in a pit. They positioned the nuts so that the Stop meridian was within 30 degrees of vertical with respect to gravity more often than expected, and the nuts rarely moved after the monkeys released them. In the second experiment, 14 blindfolded people (7 men) asked to position marked nuts on an anvil as if to crack them reliably placed them with the Stop meridian in the same position as the monkeys did. In the third experiment, two people judged that palm nuts are most bilaterally symmetric along a meridian on, or close to, the Stop meridian. Thus the monkeys reliably placed the more symmetrical side of the nuts against the side of the pit, and the nuts reliably remained stationary when released. Monkeys apparently used information gained from knocking the nut to achieve this position. Thus, monkeys place the nuts skillfully, strategically managing the fit between the variable nuts and pits in the anvil, and skilled placement depends upon information generated by manual action.
animals, cebus, physiology, metabolism
Fragaszy DM, Liu Q, Wright B, Allen A, Brown CW, Visalberghi E. Wild Bearded Capuchin Monkeys (Sapajus libidinosus) Strategically Place Nuts in a Stable Position During Nut-Cracking. PLoS One. 2013; 8(2). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0056182.