Insect diet may have led to bigger human brains

Foraging for lean-season diet such as ants, slugs and bugs may have spurred the development of bigger brains and higher-level cognitive functions in early humans and other primates, a new study suggests. ‘Challenges associated with finding food have long been recognised as important in shaping evolution of the brain and cognition in primates, including humans,’ said study lead author, Amanda D Melin from Washington University in St Louis.

‘Our work suggests that digging for insects when food was scarce may have contributed to hominid cognitive evolution and set the stage for advanced tool use,’ said Melin. Based on a five-year study of capuchin monkeys in Costa Rica, the research provides support for an evolutionary theory that links the development of sensorimotor (SMI) skills, such as increased manual dexterity, tool use, and innovative problem solving, to the creative challenges of foraging for insects and other foods that are buried, embedded or otherwise hard to procure.

The study is the first to provide detailed evidence from the field on how seasonal changes in food supplies influence the foraging patterns of wild capuchin monkeys.
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