A molecular analysis of nine stool samples from gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos reveals the diversity of insects in the diets of these African great ape species. The findings, published in Scientific Reports this week, highlight the potential of molecular techniques for examining which insects are part of the diet of wild animals.
Insect consumption is common among non-human primates but existing methods for studying the diversity of apes’ insectivory have their drawbacks. Direct observations are often time-consuming and are limited by the difficulty of tracking apes in their natural habitat, and the damage to insect bodies by the mechanical action of the digestive tract creates challenges for the direct analyses of insects in animal faeces.
Fadi Bittar and colleagues evaluated insect diversity in the diet of gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos using a DNA-barcoding analysis of stool samples. They detected in the samples units of DNA belonging to 32 families of insects, including flies, beetles, moths, mosquitoes and termites. No ant species were identified, although their absence could be due to DNA gradation or. Further research using larger samples collected in different seasons will help to provide a richer understanding of the variation within and among the diets of different wild primate species.