Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Chimpanzees Need Help with Sex, Too

The art of mating takes on one level of intelligence, if any level of intelligence.  The use of external tools to move sex along takes on another, and it seems that humans are not the only species to take advantage of these.

John Tierney of the NY Times says, "only Homo sapiens seemed blessed with the idle prefrontal cortex and nimble prehensile thumbs necessary to invent erotic paraphernalia." 

However, it seems that chimps use tools as well.  In 1960, a certain resourceful chimpanzee came under the scrutiny of Jane Goodall near Lake Tanganyika.  It was feasting on termites with a blade of grass that he had poked into a passage in the mound to extract his meal.  The soldier termites would attack the intruding blade, and, knowing this, the chimpanzee would pull blade back out, now spotted with these tasty treats.  

This blade of grass served as a tool, and, "to be classified as a tool, an object must be held in the hand, foot or mouth and used as to enable the operator to attain an immediate goal" (Goodall).

According to Dr. McGrew, professor at the University of Cambridge, a male chimpanzee attracts a female through a distinctive, rasping sound.  The tool used to produce this sound is a leaf or a set of leaves, which the male breaks bit by bit down the midvein as he sits with his legs open to reveal his erection.  He will continue this leaf-clipping ritual until the female comes to mate with him.

Does evolution fall short?  "Considering all that evolution had done to make sex second nature, or maybe first nature, I would have expected creatures without access to the Internet to leave well enough alone", said Tierney.

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