Background: We test whether traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) about how to make an item predicts a person's skill at making it among the Tsimane' (Bolivia). The rationale for this research is that the failure to distinguish between knowledge and skill might account for some of the conflicting results about the relationships between TEK, human health, and economic development.Methods: We test the association between a commonly-used measure of individual knowledge (cultural consensus analysis) about how to make an arrow or a bag and a measure of individual skill at making these items, using ordinary least-squares regression. The study consists of 43 participants from 3 villages.Results: We find no association between our measures of knowledge and skill (core model, p > 0.5, R2 = .132).Conclusions: While we cannot rule out the possibility of a real association between these phenomena, we interpret our findings as support for the claim that researchers should distinguish between methods to measure knowledge and skill when studying trends in TEK. © 2013 Kightley et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.