Vol 4, Issue 4, November 2017

Behavior Systems Approach to Object Play: Stone Handling Repertoire as a Measure of Propensity for Complex Foraging and Percussive Tool Use in the Genus Macaca


Pelletier, A.N., Kaufmann, T., Mohak, S., Milan, R., Nahallage, C.A.D., Huffman, M.A., Gunst, N. Rompis, A., Wandia, I.N., Arta Putra, I.G.A., Pellis, S.M., & Leca, J-B. (2017). Behavior systems approach to object play: Stone handling repertoire as a measure of propensity for complex foraging and percussive tool use in the genus Macaca. Animal Behavior and Cognition, 4(4), 455-473. https://dx.doi.org/10.26451/abc.


Stone handling (SH), has been identified in four closely related primate species of the Macaca genus. We provide the first ethogram of SH in long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis), a primate species known to use stones for extractive foraging. A total of 62.7 hrs of video recorded data were scored from a population of Balinese long-tailed macaques living in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, and a total of 36 stone handling patterns were identified. Behavior discovery curves were generated and showed that the minimum threshold of completeness was exceeded for the SH repertoire in this group. A “foraging substitute” hypothesis for the expression of SH was proposed, suggesting that SH consists of performing foraging-like actions on non-edible objects. We used a “behavior systems” framework to test this prediction, finding that all 36 stone handling patterns could be reliably categorized in a foraging behavior system, supporting the hypothesis that stone handling can be considered pseudo-foraging behavior. Our “behavior systems” approach will serve as a foundation for the future testing of the motivational basis of stone handling. Additionally, a comparison of 39 stone handling patterns performed by three macaque species (M. fascicularis, M. fuscata and M. mulatta) showed overlapping behavioral propensities to manipulate stones; however, the differences suggest that long-tailed macaques might be more prone to use stones as percussive tools in a foraging context. This work could offer insights into the development and evolution of complex activities such as percussive stone tool use in early humans.


Object play, Percussive tool use, Behavior systems, Motivation, Foraging, Ethogram