The ontogeny of handling hard-to-process food in wild brown capuchins (Cebus apella apella): evidence from foraging on the fruit of Maximiliana maripa

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Abstract

We examined age-related differences in wild brown capuchins' foraging efficiency and the food-processing behaviors directed toward maripa palm fruit (Maximiliana maripa). A detailed comparison of the different foraging techniques showed that plucking the fruit from the infructescence constituted the main difficulty of this task. Foraging efficiency tended to increase with age, with a threshold at which sufficient strength allowed immatures by the age of three to reach adult-level efficiency. Youngsters spent more time than older individuals browsing the infructescence and pulling the fruit in an attempt to harvest it. Infants tried to compensate for their inability to pluck fruit by adopting alternative strategies but with low payback, such as gnawing unplucked fruit and opportunistically scrounging others' partially processed food. Although around 2 years of age, young capuchins exhibited all of the behaviors used by adults, they did not reach adult-level proficiency at feeding on maripa until about 3 years (older juveniles). We compared this developmental pattern with that of extractive foraging on beetle larvae (Myelobia sp.) hidden in bamboo stalks, a more difficult food for these monkeys [Gunst N, Boinski S, Fragaszy DM. Behaviour 145:195–229, 2008]. For maripa, the challenge was mainly physical (plucking the fruit) once a tree was encountered, whereas for larvae, the challenge was primarily perceptual (locating the hidden larvae). For both foods, capuchins practice for years before achieving adult-level foraging competence, and the timeline is extended for larvae foraging (until 6 years) compared with maripa (3 years). The differing combinations of opportunities and challenges for learning to forage on these different foods illustrate how young generalist foragers (i.e. exploiting a large number of animal and plant species) may compensate for their low efficiency in extractive foraging tasks by showing earlier competence in processing less difficult but nutritious foods, such as maripa fruit. Am. J. Primatol. 72:960–973, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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