December 21, 2010 in Nation/World

Female chimps cradle stick ‘babies’

Amina Khan Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES – Young female chimps carry sticks as a form of “play-mothering,” much in the same way girls cradle their dolls, scientists said Monday.

The findings, published online in the journal Current Biology, imply that gender roles might be more biologically rooted than some people think, the authors said.

Lead author Sonya Kahlenberg, a biological anthropologist at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, looked at incidences of stick-carrying in chimps in a community in Kibale National Park in Uganda over a period of 14 years. After examining more than 100 cases, she and co-author Richard Wrangham, a biological anthropologist at Harvard University, noticed a distinct gender difference. Of the young females, 67 percent carried sticks, as opposed to just 31 percent of males.

Aside from their other stick-related activities – using them to probe holes that might hold honey or water, or brandishing them like weapons – the young chimps would also occasionally cradle a longer, thicker stick as they went about their business, almost as if it were a baby.

They would even bring the sticks into their nests – which never happened with the sticks used for honey-hunting or play-fighting. Some of the young chimps even played the “airplane” game: lying on their backs and lifting the stick in the air.

The authors argue that the stick-carrying demonstrates a type of “play-mothering.”

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