Chimpanzees are the only animals, other than humans, that learn certain cultural behaviors - such as grooming, hunting or how to crack open nuts -- from those around them, according to a study.
Culture is defined by scientists as a set of socially-learned behaviors that differ between populations. Because the behavior is learned from a local group, individual populations may carry out the same task differently.
"Culture has long been considered to be not only unique to humans, but also responsible for making us different from all other forms of life," wrote researchers, led by Stephen Lycett of the University of Liverpool. "In recent years, however, researchers studying chimpanzees have challenged this idea. Natural populations of chimpanzees have been found to vary greatly in their behavior."
Many animals learn skills from their parents or peers but none of it is considered a cultural ability because it is usually limited to one activity. Chimpanzees, however, have demonstrated almost 40 different activities that seem to be learned and which differ between populations.
Studies of chimpanzees in eastern and western Africa show that some use only stone tools to crack nuts open while others use both wooden and stone tools.
Dr. Lycett and his team made a genetic family tree of the different groups of chimpanzees from eastern and western Africa and correlated it with the animals' behavior. The team found that the small differences in genes between groups could not account for behavioral differences.
"Our results support the suggestion that the behavioral patterns are the product of social learning and, therefore, can be considered cultural," wrote Dr. Lycett. (The Guardian)