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Army ant prey availability and consumption by chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes vellerosus) at Gashaka (Nigeria)


Caspar Schöning, Institute of Biology, Department of Population Biology, University of Copenhagen, Universitetsparken 15, 2100 Copenhagen, Denmark.


Army ant predation by chimpanzees has been studied as an intriguing example of tool use and a possible case of cultural variation. However, the importance of army ant prey in chimpanzee diet and feeding ecology is still only poorly understood. We studied the availability and consumption of army ants in a population of the chimpanzee subspecies Pan troglodytes vellerosus in Nigeria. Army ants were collected from nests and trails (workers) and near artificial light sources (males). Three potential prey species were found: Dorylus rufescens, Dorylus gerstaeckeri and Dorylus kohli. Dorylus rufescens was by far more abundant than the other two species. Only remains from D. rufescens were present in chimpanzee faeces. This is the first report of consumption of this ant species by chimpanzees. However, because of the low availability of the other two species, it is unclear whether this pattern reflects a preference for D. rufescens. Although D. rufescens' availability varied with weather conditions, the occurrence as well as the absolute and relative numbers of Dorylus fragments in faeces did not. This finding, together with the considerable difficulties encountered by human observers in their efforts to locate nests by following trails, suggests that the chimpanzees in this population do not harvest army ants from trails and do not use trails to locate nests. The overall occurrence of army ant fragments in 42.3% of all faecal samples is the highest ever recorded in any chimpanzee population. This indicates that in this chimpanzee population, army ant prey is not a fallback during periods of sparse availability of plant food, but quantitatively important throughout the year. Future studies will be needed to clarify which cues and strategies chimpanzees use to locate army ant nests and to assess the role of myrmecophagy with respect to macro- or micronutrient demands.