You might not have been thinking about this one today, we honestly were not either. But scientists have come out with some studies that have us thinking. Scientists who apparently have little else to do suggest that mankind, in our primitive years benefited cognitively from having to hunt for bugs to eat.
Lead author Amanda D. Melin, assistant professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, says:
“Our work suggests that digging for insects when food was scarce may have contributed to hominid cognitive evolution and set the stage for advanced tool use.”
Writing in the Journal of Human Evolution, Prof. Melin and colleagues report how they came to this conclusion after studying capuchin monkeys in Costa Rica, for 5 years.
They say their findings support the idea of a link between the need to innovate new ways to forage for insects and other well-hidden and buried foods, and the development of manual dexterity, problem solving and use of tools.
In their study, they were able to observe how the foraging patterns of the monkeys changed as the seasons influenced their food supplies. The study is thought to be the first to provide this kind of evidence directly from the wild as opposed to laboratory observations.
Prof. Melin has been studying the visual and foraging ecology of white-faced capuchins in the tropical forests of Costa Rica since 2004. She says with their small bodies and large brains they make excellent models for seeing how brain size and intelligence may have evolved.
She explains how they found the capuchin monkeys ate embedded insects all year round but this type of feeding intensified in seasons when their preferred food source – ripe fruit – became less abundant.
“Accessing hidden and well-protected insects living in tree branches and under bark is a cognitively demanding task, but provides a high-quality reward: fat and protein, which is needed to fuel big brains,” she adds.
“These results suggest embedded insects are an important fallback food,” she notes.