News & Opinion | July 6, 2018 11:04 am

Tiny Monkeys Caught on Camera Using Stones as Tools

They have officially entered the Stone Age

(Getty Images)
Getty Images

Scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama have long whispered about the remote island where monkeys use stones as tools, but no one had seen it. Once, a botanist witnessed the phenomenon, but was more interested in the flora than fauna, so she kept moving. Any return to the island would require more funding, good weather for the 35-mile boat ride and multiple days of swimming, hiking and camping amid rocky shorelines and dense tropical forest. But it has finally happened.

When Brendan Barrett, a behavioral ecologist at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany and a visiting researcher at the STRI, and his colleagues arrived at Jicaron Island in Panama’s Coiba National Park last year, they saw tiny white-faced capuchin monkeys using large stones as hammers to smash open shellfish, nuts and other foods.

The capuchins are the first animals of the genus to be observed using stone tools. They are also only the fourth group of nonhuman primates known to do so.