Observations on the ontogeny of feeding behavior in mountain gorillas (Gorilla gorilla beringei)



This report describes observations on the ontogeny of food choice in mountain gorillas (Gorilla gorilla beringei), made during a 17-month field study of mountain gorilla feeding ecology in the Parc National des Volcans, Rwanda. Data are presented on the feeding behavior of two infants observed from birth to the age of 8 months and on older infants and juveniles. This information is compared with data on the composition and diversity of the diets of young adults and adults in the same social group. Initial feeding by infants is usually synchronized with the mother's behavior: infants ingest the same food, or a different part of the same plant species, currently being eaten by the mother or just eaten by her. This suggests that observational learning is largely responsible for the transmission of food preferences. Most feeding by young infants, whether or not synchronized with the mother's, is on those foods eaten most frequently by adults. Infants also independently sample potential foods, some of which are apparently not consumed by adults. The frequency of sampling declines with age, although even adults occasionally ingest foods not observed to be eaten by other adults. By the age of 3 years, young mountain gorillas have developed the basic dietary patterns of adults, in terms of the number of foods eaten, the proportions in which specific foods are consumed, and diet diversity and equitability. There is a strong possibility that chemical cues influence food choice, but their role remains unclear.