Sex differences in tool use acquisition in bonobos (Pan paniscus)


Correspondence to: Klaree Boose, Department of Anthropology, 1218 University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403.



All the great ape species are known tool users in both the wild and captivity, although there is great variation in ability and behavioral repertoire. Differences in tool use acquisition between chimpanzees and gorillas have been attributed to differing levels of social tolerance as a result of differences in social structure. Chimpanzees also show sex differences in acquisition and both chimpanzees and bonobos demonstrate a female bias in tool use behaviors. Studies of acquisition are limited in the wild and between species comparisons are complicated in captivity by contexts that often do not reflect natural conditions. Here we investigated tool use acquisition in a captive group of naïve bonobos by simulating naturalistic conditions. We constructed an artificial termite mound fashioned after those that occur in the wild and tested individuals within a social group context. We found sex differences in latencies to attempt and to succeed where females attempted to fish, were successful more quickly, and fished more frequently than males. We compared our results to those reported for chimpanzees and gorillas. Males across all three species did not differ in latency to attempt or to succeed. In contrast, bonobo and chimpanzee females succeeded more quickly than did female gorillas. Female bonobos and female chimpanzees did not differ in either latency to attempt or to succeed. We tested the social tolerance hypothesis by investigating the relationship between tool behaviors and number of neighbors present. We also compared these results to those reported for chimpanzees and gorillas and found that bonobos had the fewest numbers of neighbors present. The results of this study do not support the association between number of neighbors and tool behavior reported for chimpanzees. However, bonobos demonstrated a similar sex difference in tool use acquisition, supporting the hypothesis of a female bias in tool use in Pan. Am. J. Primatol. 75:917–926, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.