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August 18, 2005

Chimpanzees are lefthanded


That's the word from Dr. William D. Hopkins of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta and Elizabeth V. Lonsdorf of the Lincoln Park Zoo and the University of Chicago.

Their new study, just published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, demonstrates conclusively that when it comes to one crucial task — hunting termites with a stick — two out of three chimpanzees living in Gombe National Park in Tanzania use their left hand.

But wait: there's more.

Other studies of chimp populations in other parts of Africa have shown that for cracking nuts, chimpanzees show signs of right–handed dominance.

Dr. Hopkins said, in Tuesday's New York Times Science section article by Henry Fountain on the new findings, that "the difference might be due to the demands of the two tasks: termite fishing requires fine motor control with the fingers, while nut cracking is more of a whole–hand activity."

I find this new work quite troubling, on a personal level.

You see, I use my left hand for fine motor tasks but use my right for those requiring less dexterity and more power.

The dividing line is racket sports: I play ping–pong left–handed but tennis right–handed.

I have yet to meet another person — or chimpanzee — with this particular division of tasks.

So you can see why there is unease here at bookofjoe World Headquarters.

I have always had a shadow of doubt regarding my origin and the shadow has just lengthened.

August 18, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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I too use my left hand for small motor movements and my right for large. Oddly, I also find racket sports to be the dividing line, wherein I use both! Specifically I have two forehands, but only a left handed backhand (the backhand being more of a finesse stroke and thereby more left handed). Also, like Dawn, my parents use different hands.

Posted by: Jim Radford | Aug 20, 2005 11:44:58 AM

Right/left- doesent matter- What matters is we are killing off our closes relatives. I spent a year teaching sigh language to a chimp- he taught me more than I could ever teach him. Rest in peace Nim Chimpski!

Posted by: tom martin | Aug 19, 2005 4:45:13 PM

You don't have to worry until you get the urge to kill and eat human babies when you get that craving for animal flesh. Male chimpanzees have exhibited this kind of cannibalism, eating infant chimpanzees, when there is a shortage of meat.

Posted by: ScienceChic | Aug 18, 2005 7:56:34 PM

I too use my left hand for detailed work and the right for gross motor. You are not alone Joe. I figured it had something to do with the fact that one parent was lefthanded and one was righthanded and I would like to keep believing that!

Posted by: Dawn | Aug 18, 2005 5:43:03 PM

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