Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Treating wounds with insects: strange habits of chimps

Treating wounds with insects: strange habits of chimps

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A chimpanzee will catch an insect out of the air, put it in their mouth and squeeze it then apply it to another chimpanzee’s wound. AFP

Treating wounds with insects: strange habits of chimps

How do you treat a wound? For humans, the first instinct would be to disinfect it and then cover it with a bandage.

But chimpanzees have invented a more creative method: catching insects and applying them directly to the open wound.

Scientists observed this behaviour in chimpanzees in the West African nation of Gabon, noticing that the apes not only use insects to treat their own wounds, but also those of their peers.

The research, published Monday in the journal Current Biology, marks an important contribution to ongoing scientific debate about the ability of chimpanzees – and of animals in general – to selflessly help others.

“When you’re going to school and you read in your biology books about the amazing things that animals can do,” Simone Pika, a biologist at the University of Osnabruck in Germany and a co-author of the study, said. “I think it could really be something like that that will end up in those books.”

The project began in 2019, when an adult female chimpanzee named Suzee was observed inspecting a wound on the foot of her adolescent son.

Suzee then suddenly caught an insect out of the air, put it in her mouth, apparently squeezed it, and then applied it to her son’s wound.

After extracting the insect from the wound, she applied it two more times.

The scene unfolded in Loango National Park on Gabon’s Atlantic coast, where researchers are studying a group of 45 central chimpanzees, an endangered species.

Over the following 15 months, scientists saw chimpanzees administer the same treatment on themselves at least 19 times.

And on two other occasions they observed injured chimpanzees being treated in the same way by one or several fellow apes.

The wounds, sometimes several centimetres wide, can come from conflicts between members of same or an opposing group.

Far from protesting the treatment, the bruised chimpanzees were happy to be tended to.

“It takes lot of trust to put an insect in an open wound,” said Pika. “They seem to understand that if you do this to me with this insect, then my wound gets better. It’s amazing.”

Soothing properties?

Researchers have not been able to identify what bug was used on the wounds, but they believe it to be a flying insect given the chimpanzees’ rapid movement to catch it.

Pika says the insect could contain anti-inflammatory substances that have a soothing effect.

Insects are known to have various medical properties and researches will need to conduct more work to detect and study the insect in question.

Birds, bears, elephants and other animals have already been observed self-medicating, for example by eating plants.

But what is unique about chimpanzees is that they will treat not just themselves, but also help others.

Some scientists, however, still doubt the ability of animal species to exhibit prosocial behaviors, such as selflessly caring for others, Pika said.

But here the chimpanzees have nothing to gain, she stressed. So why do they do it?

In humans, prosocial behavior is generally linked to empathy.

Could the same feeling be at play in chimpanzees, Pika wondered.

“It is a hypothesis that we must study,” she said.


  • Hong Kong firm done buying Coke Cambodia

    Swire Coca-Cola Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed Swire Pacific Ltd, on November 25 announced that it had completed the acquisition of The Coca-Cola Co’s bottling business in Cambodia, as part of its ambitions to expand into the Southeast Asian market. Swire Coca-Cola affirmed

  • Moody’s sets outlook rating to ‘negative’ for Cambodia

    US global rating agency Moody’s Investors Service Inc on November 15 announced that it downgraded Cambodia’s outlook from “stable” to “negative” and maintained its B2 local and foreign currency issuer ratings. “The negative outlook reflects a deteriorating external position as illustrated by the severe

  • NagaWorld union leader arrested at airport after Australia trip

    Chhim Sithar, head of the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees at NagaWorld integrated casino resort, was arrested on November 26 at Phnom Penh International Airport and placed in pre-trial detention after returning from a 12-day trip to Australia. Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge

  • Korean first lady paves way for ill boy’s surgery

    A 14-year-old boy with congenital heart disease who was lucky enough to meet with South Korean first lady Kim Keon-hee may get the chance of a lifetime and receive surgery and treatment at Asan Medical Center in Seoul, South Korea. After seeing his plight, many

  • Hun Sen’s Covid infection caused by ‘weakened antibody’ after summit

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said exhaustion from heavy workload before and during the recent ASEAN Summit may have led to him contracting Covid-19 due to his weakened immune system, while rejecting speculations that the infection was caused by leaders of some countries who did not

  • Kingdom’s rice crowned world’s No1

    Cambodia’s Phka Rumduol jasmine variety has been crowned the World’s Best Rice for the fifth time at the TRT (The Rice Trader) World Rice Conference in Phuket, Thailand on November 17, according to leaders of the Kingdom’s apex rice industry body. Phka Rumduol