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Wild vervet monkeys copy alternative methods for opening an artificial fruit

Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle



Experimental studies of animal social learning in the wild remain rare, especially those that employ the most discriminating tests in which alternative means to complete naturalistic tasks are seeded in different groups. We applied this approach to wild vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus aethiops) using an artificial fruit (‘vervetable’) opened by either lifting a door panel or sliding it left or right. In one group, a trained model lifted the door, and in two others, the model slid it either left or right. Members of each group then watched their model before being given access to multiple baited vervetables with all opening techniques possible. Thirteen of these monkeys opened vervetables, displaying a significant tendency to use the seeded technique on their first opening and over the course of the experiment. The option preferred in these monkeys’ first successful manipulation session was also highly correlated with the proportional frequency of the option they had previously witnessed. The social learning effects thus documented go beyond mere stimulus enhancement insofar as the same door knob was grasped for either technique. Results thus suggest that through imitation, emulation or both, new foraging techniques will spread across groups of wild vervet monkeys to create incipient foraging traditions.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)617-627
Number of pages11
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number3
Early online date25 Dec 2014
StatePublished - May 2015

    Research areas

  • Field experiments, Social learning, Imitation, Cultural transmission, Primates, Vervet monkeys

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