Chimps in other parts of Africa are known to fish for termites with implements like this, but Maya goes one step further and modifies the tool. She drags the last six inches of the stem through her teeth to create a wet, frayed end, like a paintbrush, and pulls it through her closed fist to straighten out the bristles. With the dexterity of a professional lock picker, she then threads the brush-tipped stem into the same hole, pulls it out, and nibbles off a couple bugs that cling to the wand's frayed edges.
What's so remarkable about that fishing probe is that it represents a refinement. It's not just that some clever chimp figured out that it could break off a plant stem and use it to fish for termites—an impressive enough discovery in its own right—it's that some other chimp figured out a way to do it even better. And the brush tip is not merely a trivial upgrade. Morgan and Sanz have tried termite fishing themselves with both brush-tipped and unmodified sticks and found that they picked up ten times more termites with the frayed tool.
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