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Eating Habits

Chimpanzees are omnivorous, eating both meat and plant material. Their diet includes fruits, leaves, buds, seeds, pith, bark, insects, bird eggs, and smaller mammals. Chimpanzees have been observed to kill baboons, other monkeys, and young bush pigs, and they sometimes practice cannibalism. Chimps eat up to 200-300 species of plants, depending on local availability.

Chimpanzees seem to know the medicinal value of certain plants. In the Gombe National Forest in Tanzania, chimps have been seen to eat the plant Apilia mossambicensis to help rid themselves of parasites in their digestive system. A branch of science, zoopharmacognosy, has recently developed to study the medicinal use of plants by wild animals.

Fruit is the main component of the chimpanzee diet, and they spend at least four hours a day finding and eating varieties of this food. In the afternoon chimps also spend another hour or two feeding on young leaves. They also eat quantities of insects that they collect by hand, or in the case of termites, using simple tools. Chimpanzees break open the hard shells of nuts with sticks or smash them between two rocks. Animal prey is eaten less regularly than fruits and leaves. Chimpanzees (usually males) will regularly kill and eat young pigs, monkeys, and antelopes.

Chimpanzees are able to devise simple tools to assist in finding food and for other activities. They use stones to smash open nuts, sticks for catching termites, and they peel leaves from bamboo shoots for use as wash cloths to wipe off dirt or blood, and to collect rainwater from tree-cavities. The use of tools by chimpanzees varies from region to region, which indicates that it is a learned behavior. Young chimps have been observed to imitate their elders in the use of tools, and to fumble with the activity until they eventually become proficient.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Chimaeras to ClusterChimpanzees - Chimpanzee Species And Habitat, Physical Characteristics, Behavior, Parenting, Eating Habits, Communication, Jane Goodall's Observations