There’s so much that happens at the sanctuary that we often have stories or tidbits we want to share on the blog that get “bumped” for something else noteworthy, heartwarming, or amazing (all of these adjectives describe yesterday’s post about Negra! My heart will remain full after that experience for a very long time to come).
Here’s one of those stories that got bumped for something else, but I still wanted to share it because I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
A couple of weeks ago, J.B. found a small wasp nest (sans wasps) and brought it into the office. I was working in the chimp house that day, and he suggested that I give it to one of the chimpanzees who likes to eat wasp larvae. The known connoisseurs of wasp larvae currently are Jamie, Missy, and Jody. Always eager to please the boss, I first offered it to Jamie. When I presented it to her and pointed out the holes that were filled in with grubs, I’m positive she recognized what it was, but, to my surprise, she did not gesture for me to give it to her. So I said, “Okay, Jamie, I’m going to give it to someone else.” She remained where she was and let me leave without a protest.
I found Jody lying in a pile of blankets in one of the front rooms. When I showed her the wasp nest, she leapt out of bed and put her lips up to the caging so I could give it to her. She was extremely happy with this unexpected gift and took it back to her nest with a contented low moan. Jody was probably grateful for this wasp-free (and therefore sting-free) nest, given her experience last month.
Several hours later, Jamie indicated that she wanted to go on a walk. As per the routine, I donned some boots and headed out to join her on the opposite side of the fence. She did not continue along the perimeter path, however. Instead, she made a beeline for the structure we call Negra’s cabin.
I watched her with curiosity as she climbed to the top and then sort of swung into the cabin, reaching with her right hand. I had no idea what she was doing until she slithered down the cabin support log and I saw her pick up something from the ground. That’s when I figured out that she had removed a wasp nest and was collecting the spoils.
Rather than resuming the walk, she headed back to the greenhouse. When I caught up with her, I found Jamie enjoying her treasure and Missy sitting next to her, ready for anything Jamie might drop or discard.
The wasp nest that Jamie had captured was at least three times the size of the one that I had offered her earlier. She meticulously broke it apart piece by piece with her lips, eating the larvae one by one.
There are three things that I love about this incident and the way Jamie works:
Number One: She rejected the free larvae offered earlier and instead worked to obtain larvae on her own. This is somewhat typical of Jamie – she likes puzzles and will chose to work to get food instead of having it handed to her, though I’ve never seen her reject an unexpected gift of food.
Number Two: This is a bit speculative, but I believe that showing Jamie the nest earlier in the day sparked the idea of her hunting for a nest of her own – maybe in that moment she thought about where she could get a better specimen than the puny thing I was offering. She didn’t run out to find a nest right away, though, she waited until the evening hours when nothing else was going on and she was looking for a bit of adventure.
Number Three: I’m always thrilled when the chimpanzees do something that they figured out on their own and show off their chimpanzee foraging skills. As we’ve written before, we humans didn’t recognize wasp nests as having potential food, particularly for this group of chimpanzees that grew up far away from their natural habitat and had never shown an interest in eating anything in the insect realm.
It’s a reminder that they are intelligent wild beings who inherited a particular skill set that allowed their species to survive in a variety of environments across equatorial Africa.
Jamie may like boots and blankets, but she also likes wasp larvae. And she’s perfectly capable of finding it on her own, thank you very much.