Chimps Opt for Takeout as “Grab-and-Go” Fruit Comes into Season

Freud grabs a few fruits without missing a beat as he makes his way through the shrubs (Photo by Lisa O’Bryan)

Lisa O’Bryan is in Gombe National Park in Tanzania, where Jane Goodall began the first studies of chimps in the wild. Lisa is in the forests trying to better understand the calls chimps make, to help discover just where the line is (or isn’t) between sounds and speech.


The chimps are on the move again as budyenkende (Monanthotaxis poggei) comes into season at Gombe National Park. This small orange fruit grows in vast fields covering most of the lower areas of forest bordering the beach. Thus, rather than arrive at one location where they may feed for an hour or so, the chimps are on the go as soon as they step into a patch. Grabbing a fruit here and a fruit there, they stuff as many into their mouths as they can while their cheeks expand in size. They only break now and again to press their wadge of fruit against their teeth before spitting out the pulp and seeds and starting again.

A wadge of budyenkende pulp and seeds (Photo by Lisa O'Bryan)
A wadge of budyenkende pulp and seeds (Photo by Lisa O’Bryan)

While racing through the shrubby vegetation behind them, I can’t help but picture all of the grab-n-go foods found in supermarkets nowadays. Freed from being tied down to one boring old tree, the chimps don’t have to miss out on exploring new areas of forest or seeing what other chimps are up just because they get a little hungry. However, just like our busy lifestyles, budyenkende season comes with some drawbacks. Always on the move, the chimps are using up calories nearly as quickly as they are taking them in. Furthermore, socialization is difficult and and often unwelcome. Not only are the chimps constantly weaving in and out among the bushes, they must give each other a wide berth to reduce competition for these valuable fruits.

The chimps scour the flat areas of the forest for the bright orange fruits (Photo by Lisa O'Bryan)
The chimps scour the flat areas of the forest for the bright orange fruits (Photo by Lisa O’Bryan)

In fact, this is a slow time for recording the food-associated calls I am studying since they are usually produced when chimps come together to feed in one location, such as a large tree. Then again, the season offers great insight into the close connection between food and chimpanzee social structure and the role communication may play in this relationship. I expect that as the fruits begin to dwindle the chimps will return to a more relaxed lifestyle, but for the time being, they’ll be getting their food to-go as they race across the Gombe shoreline.


NEXT: Frodo: A Glimpse Into the Retirement of an Demonic Alpha Male



Meet the Author
Lisa O’Bryan is a PhD candidate in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota. Her dissertation research focuses on the function of chimpanzee food-associated calling behavior. She is currently conducting fieldwork at Gombe National Park through the end of May 2013.