Chimpanzees prey on army ants at Seringbara, Nimba Mountains, Guinea: predation patterns and tool use characteristics.
Chimpanzees are renowned for their use of foraging tools in harvesting social insects and some populations use tools to prey on aggressive army ants (Dorylus spp.). Tool use in army ant predation varies across chimpanzee study sites with differences in tool length, harvesting technique, and army ant species targeted. However, surprisingly little is known about the detailed ecology of army ant predation. We studied army ant predation by chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) at the Seringbara study site in the Nimba Mountains, Guinea (West Africa), over 10 years (2003-2013). We investigated chimpanzee selectivity with regards to army ant prey species. We assessed the temporal variation in army ant-feeding and examined whether army ant predation was related to rainfall or ripe fruit availability. Moreover, we examined whether chimpanzees showed selectivity regarding plant species used for tool manufacture, as well as the relationship between tool species preference and tool collection distance. Lastly, we measured tool properties and investigated the use of tool sets and composite tools in army ant predation. Seringbara chimpanzees preyed on one army ant species (D. nigricans) more often than expected based on encounter rates, which may be explained by the overlap in altitudinal distribution between chimpanzees and D. nigricans. Army ant predation was not related to rainfall or fruit availability. Chimpanzees were selective in their choice of tool materials and collected their preferred tool species (Alchornea hirtella) from greater distances than they did other species. Lastly, Seringbara chimpanzees used both tool sets and composite tools (tree perch) in army ant predation. Tool types (dig vs. dip) differed in width and strength, but not length. Tool composites were found at 40% of ant-feeding sites. Our study sheds new light on the ecology of army ant predation and provides novel insights into chimpanzee selection of army ant prey and tool species.