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Capuchin monkeys seen on video using clever tools to gather food

A recent discovery in Brazil’s Ubajara National Park is challenging our understanding of primate intelligence and tool use. Capuchin monkeys, long known for their cleverness, have been observed using tools found in their natural habitat to unearth hidden food sources. 

This remarkable behavior, captured on video by researchers, showcases the intricate strategies and adaptability of these small primates. 

By studying their tool use, scientists are gaining valuable insights into the evolution of cognitive abilities across species, potentially reshaping our understanding of the origins of tool use and intelligence.

Tools used by capuchin monkeys

In the depths of Brazil’s Ubajara National Park, pint-sized capuchin monkeys have been caught on camera putting on a masterclass in tool use. These clever critters aren’t just monkeying around; they’re strategically excavating underground nests to snag delicious trapdoor spiders.

Scientists recorded 214 instances of these monkeys showing off their digging prowess, using a variety of techniques:


Capuchin monkeys sometimes rely solely on their paws to dig for food. They use their hands to scrape and excavate the soil, showcasing their dexterity and strength.


These monkeys select specific rocks to assist in digging. They choose smaller, lighter sandstone rocks to break up compacted soil, increasing their efficiency in reaching underground food sources.


Capuchin monkeys use sticks as tools to reach into deep burrows. They use the sticks to probe and extract food, such as spiders and their egg sacs, from tight spaces.

Stone-stick combo

Capuchin monkeys combine the use of stones and sticks for digging. They use a stone to break the surface soil, then a stick to probe deeper, making their tool use more effective and versatile.

Seasonal tool use

These monkeys aren’t just clever; they’re adaptable too. Researchers observed that capuchin monkeys altered their digging tactics based on the season and the available tools.

They showed an ability to select the appropriate tool for the conditions, whether it was a dry summer day or a muddy monsoon season. This adaptability highlights their intelligence and resourcefulness in varying environments.

Monkey see, monkey dig

The use of tools among capuchin monkeys isn’t a new discovery. Scientists have been documenting these “Monkey Stone Age” behaviors for a while now. In fact, it’s not just capuchins who are handy with tools; orangutans have also been observed using plants for medicinal purposes.

The discovery of tool use in capuchin monkeys dates back to 2004 when botanist Alicia Ibáñez observed white-faced capuchins using rocks to open sea almonds and shellfish in Panama’s Coiba National Park. Since then, similar behaviors have been observed in other capuchin species across South America.

Tool time in the rainforest

For 21 months, researchers from the University of São Paulo closely observed these digging monkeys, documenting their every move. They found that the monkeys were quite picky about their tools, choosing lighter sandstone rocks for digging compared to the heavier rocks they use for cracking nuts.

“We predict that capuchin monkeys use hands-only in looser soil, and stone-digging in compacted and tougher soil,” noted the researchers. They also suggested that capuchin monkeys actively choose stone tool positions, which increases efficiency when digging in tough soil.

The monkeys showed a preference for using sticks when raiding spider burrows, sometimes even using their free hand to block the burrow exit and prevent their prey from escaping.

“Adult males sometimes hold the probe in one hand and place the other hand on the side of the burrow, apparently to prevent the spider from falling and running away,” explained the researchers.

Monkey tool use

Interestingly, the researchers found that using tools didn’t necessarily improve the monkeys’ success rate in obtaining food. Whether they used tools or just their bare hands, their success rate remained around 83 percent. This raises the question: why use tools at all?

The researchers speculate that the monkeys might use tools to target larger prey or to reduce the time and effort required for digging. Tools could help them access food that is harder to reach or requires more effort to obtain, making their foraging process more efficient.

Monkey Stone Age

As researchers continue to study the complex behaviors of these clever capuchin monkeys, we’re getting a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of tool use and intelligence in primates. 

It seems the Stone Age isn’t just for humans anymore; our primate cousins are proving that they too have a knack for using tools to get what they want.

This discovery raises intriguing questions about the origins of tool use and the cognitive abilities of animals. It’s a reminder that the animal kingdom is full of surprises, and there is still much to learn about our fellow creatures on this planet. 

The research is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Video Credit: Capuchin Culture Project in Scientific Reports (2024)


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