Chimps don't just live in the present, especially when it comes to breakfast. A new study suggests that these primates -- some of our closest relatives in the animal kingdom -- are capable of plotting out their actions in preparation for future events.
In the study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers recorded when and where five female chimps spent the night and foraged for food over the course of 275 days.
During the study periods, certain fruits -- like figs -- were scarce. Chimps had to be proactive to get any fresh fruit for breakfast at all, but obtaining the scarce fruit took a little extra forethought.
Sure enough, the chimps left their sleeping nests earlier when they were going after these rarer fruits -- even if doing so meant a more dangerous journey to breakfast.
“It was thrilling to see chimpanzee mums and their young carefully treading the forest floor during twilight, behaving skittish and on guard while moving towards their early morning breakfast figs,” researcher Karline Janmaat of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology said in a statement. “One-fifth of these mornings, they left before sunrise, and the rest of the forest seemed sound asleep. It got even more exciting when our analyses indicated that they were departing earlier when the figs were far away and that the females were likely making up for travel time to arrive before competitors!”
They even found that the chimps were angling their nests toward breakfast if the trees they were heading for held figs. If the fruit was heartier and more common, their nests were less likely to be directly in line with their morning route.
In other words, when chimps want figs, they take risks -- and make advanced plans -- to be sure they get to that food first.
We might take our ability to set up the coffee pot at night for granted, but for chimps this planning can mean life or death when food is scarce.