Gibbons have also been observed using tools, with clear differences in the male and female’s capacity to learn.
Female gibbons at the Gibbon Conservation Centre in Santa Clarita, California benefited significantly from having access to a tool before being tested on using the tool to retrieve food. However, the males showed no beneficial learning effects at all.
The researchers from the University of Abertay, Dundee, believe that the potential dangers of new objects or new situations to females – particularly if they are pregnant or caring for young infants – have given an evolutionary advantage to being cautious. Male gibbons, who lack the same ‘reproductive costs’, by contrast seem to have evolved no such caution.
Dr Clare Cunningham, a psychology lecturer at Abertay University who led the research, said: “This result was a genuine surprise to us, as we’d not expected such a large difference with the females who had the learning opportunity before we conducted the test. “We found that female gibbons who had no experience of the tool before being tested took almost three times as long to successfully use the tool to retrieve food from behind a barrier.”
The researchers also discovered that having access to the rake-like tool before testing did not increase the likelihood of success. Interestingly, the male gibbons who had previous experience of the tool actually took much longer during the test to approach the tool and try to retrieve the tool, suggesting that males are less interested in objects they have previously experienced.
Picture Credit: Eric Kilby (Wiki Commons)
- Cunningham C. L, Anderson J.R and Mootnick A.R 2006 Object manipulation to obtain a food reward in hoolock gibbons, Bunopithecus hoolock. Animal Behaviour, Volume 71, Issue 3, 621-629
- Cunningham C, Anderson J and Mootnick A 2011 A sex difference in effect of prior experience on object-mediated problem-solving in gibbons. Animal Cognition, DOI: 10.1007/s10071-011-0380-y