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Chimpanzees Get Up Early for Best Breakfast

By Russell Tenofsky

The early bird gets the worm. Now it appears that the early chimpanzee gets the fig because, apparently, chimpanzees also believe the axiom: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Image of a chimpanzee eating a fig for breakfast.

Chimpanzees have large-brains, which need a lot of energy to function properly. According to the researchers, the chimpanzees’ prize breakfast comprises nutrient-rich figs, and they will deliberately awaken early to travel far and wide to find them for breakfast.

Planning for Breakfast

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology studying wild chimpanzees in Western Africa discovered that “wild chimpanzees flexibly plan when and where they will have breakfast after weighing multiple factors, such as the time of day, their egocentric distance, and the type of food…”

They will deliberately awaken early to travel far and wide to find figs for breakfast.

The scientists studied five adult female chimpanzees for almost a year and found that the time the chimpanzees would leave their nests each morning was dependent on the distance they needed to travel and the type of fruit they were seeking for breakfast. The farther they needed to travel, the earlier they would awaken. The scientists also found the chimpanzees would deliberately position the direction of their sleeping nests according to the type of fruit they were to eat the next morning.

“We found that chimpanzees left their sleeping nests earlier (often before sunrise when the forest is still dark) when breakfasting on very ephemeral fruits, especially when they were farther away,” the researchers wrote. “Moreover, the females positioned their sleeping nests more in the direction of the next day’s breakfast sites with ephemeral fruit compared with breakfast sites with other fruit.”

Cognitive Complexity

The scientists surmise that the chimpanzees use a combination of flexible pre-planning skills (including a mental “map” of food sources) to ensure that they are able to rise early enough to be the first to the fig trees. Arriving early ensures that they have the best access to the food source without the threat of predators or competition from other animals.

“To our knowledge, our findings reveal the first clear example of a future-oriented cognitive mechanism by which hominoids, like great apes, can buffer the effect of seasonal declines in food availability and increased interspecific competition to facilitate first access to nutritious food,” the scientists wrote.

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