September 12, 2007 / 12:06 AM / in 12 years

Forbidden fruit: Chimp ladies love it

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Pilfered fruit brazenly plucked under the farmer’s gaze may be the secret to stolen love, at least for wild male chimpanzees and their consorts, British researchers said on Tuesday.

A chimpanzee plays in its enclosure at the Barcelona Zoo, August 31, 2007. Pilfered fruit brazenly plucked under the farmer's gaze may be the secret to stolen love, at least for wild male chimpanzees and their consorts, British researchers said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Albert Gea

Wild chimps in West Africa pinch fruits from local farms to impress the lady chimps, and it seems to pay off, said Dr. Kimberley Hockings of the University of Stirling’s department of psychology.

“The adult male who shared most with this female engaged in more consortships with her and received more grooming from her than the other adult males, even the alpha male,” said Hockings, whose study appears in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS One.

“Such daring behaviour may be considered an attractive trait,” Hockings said in comments e-mailed to Reuters.

She and colleagues studied crop-raids made by wild male chimpanzees in the West African village of Bossou in the Republic of Guinea. The study is the only recorded example of routine sharing of plant foods by chimps who are not related, the researchers said.

The favoured fruit was typically papaya, which is large and easy to share, but oranges and pineapple also scored.

Hockings said possessing a desirable food item may draw positive attention to an individual and help establish or cement an adult male chimpanzee’s relationships.

Adult males were most likely to share such foods obtained in exposed locations and in the presence of local people. “Crop-raiding adult males may be advertising prowess to other group-members,” she said.

Hockings said the males showed signs their risky behaviour was nerve-racking, as evidenced by rough self-scratching, a behaviour pattern involving large movements of the arm that suggests anxiety.

Rough self-scratching levels were more than 4 times higher when adult male chips stole and ate cultivated food compared with wild food. Nevertheless, stolen foods were shared much more frequently than wild plant foods.

The study is available freely on-line here

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