Animal tool users

Animals using Tools

Ravens – Video: Raven Intelligence | Nature | PBS

 Raven Intelligence

The raven’s intelligence and persistence are fascinating to observe. In Scandinavia, an unattended ice fishing line turns provides an easy meal for a clever raven — until the frustrated fisherman finally discovers the thief’s identity.


8 Best Non-Human Tool Users (Wired)

Tool use was once thought to distinguish humans from animal — until, that is, so many animals proved able to use them.

Granted, the fine folks at Leatherman aren’t about to be undercut by cheap chimpanzee-manufactured multitools. But it’s hard not to feel a species-level déjà vu when seeing a gorilla using a walking stick or capuchin monkey
thoughtfully selecting an ideal nut-cracking stone.

Below is a compilation of some of the most interesting animal tool use yet observed. Much more likely remains to be found: until Jane Goodall watched chimpanzees fishing for termites with sticks, scientists had been reluctant to credit animals with such sophisticated behavior — perhaps because, as Charles Darwin noted, “Animals, whom we have made our slaves, we do not like to consider our equal.”

Darwin himself was quite intrigued by animal tool use, suggesting that it allowed them to overcome biological shortcomings. In On the Origin of Species, he noted that elephants snap off tree branches to swat away flies;
in honor of Darwin’s interest, elephants are the first on our list of animal tool use.

Elephant canteens. Cute YouTube videos of elephant painters show their amazing dexterity, but even more impressive is this peculiar habit: after digging a water hole, elephants will strip bark from a tree, chew it into a ball, then use it to fill the hole. Once the top has been covered with sand, the elephant has an evaporation-resistant canteen.

Mole rat masks. The naked mole rat’s powerful, protruding teeth are great for burrowing — but digging with their mouths makes it easy to inhale dirt. To keep their lungs clear, the mole rats have been observed placing wood
shavings behind the teeth but in front of their lips — a simple face mask. (As an aside, the naked mole rat’s better-known cousin has been taught to use a raking device in captivity. A word to raking rat trainers: keep an¸eye on them! New York City is bad enough without tool-using rodents.)

Egyptian vulture hammers. Some say that seagulls who crack open shellfish by dropping them onto rocks are using tools, but that’s generally dismissed on a technicality: The seagulls aren’t actually manipulating their environment. No such ambiguity surrounds Egyptian vultures, who use rocks to break open ostrich eggs.

Burrowing owl bait. In order to attract its favorite beetle prey, burrowing owls collect mammal dung, then spread
it around the entrance to their homes
. As with many animal tool behaviors, it’s not clear whether the owls are acting out an instinctive sequence of actions, or consciously deciding to collect the dung. Either way, though, those dung balls are tools.

Woodpecker finch, green jay and New Caledonian crow bug-fishing sticks.
All these birds use twigs to forage for insects, but the New Caledonian crow is famed for its cleverness, seen here in a captive bird’s fashioning of a food-fetching hook from straight wire.

Chimpanzee clubs. Since Jane Goodall’s pioneering observations, chimpanzees have been observed using sticks
to spear bush babies
, smashing nuts open with stones (which, apparently, they’ve done for thousands of years) and making straw toothpicks. But their most striking tool may be the club.

Gorilla walking sticks. Any hiker knows the value of a good walking stick — and so, apparently, do gorillas. In a swampy forest clearing in the northern Congo, this gorilla used a stick to test the depth of a pool of water, and then to keep its balance as it walked across.

Dolphin fishing sponges. An extended family of Indian bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay, Australia are the first known marine mammal to use tools: sponges with which they stir ocean-bottom sand, uncovering and disorienting prey. “It’s hard to get inside their heads because their brains are constructed differently and it’s very hard to analyze their language, but they do seem very intelligent,” said Georgetown University marine biologist Janet Mann to the Times.

Let’s just hope dolphins don’t develop opposable thumbs.

 Top Scientific Discoveries of 2011

Intelligent Animals and Emotional Bees

Intelligent Animals and Emotional Bees


Hardly a week goes by without new evidence of intelligence in animals: empathic rats, counting
, cooperating elephants, tool-using fish, and on and on.

Rigorously tested and documented, the findings scientifically underscore the sheer richness of the life surrounding us — and perhaps none was more emblematic than observations that, by the standards devised to ensure that
animal intelligence is measured by cold data rather than warm fuzzy feelings, honeybees have emotions. Specifically, they’re capable of a glass-half-empty pessimistic worldview, which in turn challenges a human worldview: What does it mean when insects meet a benchmark that only “higher” animals are supposed to

Image: Jack Wolf/Flickr

 Top Scientific Discoveries of 2010

Self-Recognition in Rhesus Macaques

Self-Recognition in Rhesus Macaques

For decades, the failure of rhesus macaque monkeys to recognize themselves in a mirror kept their species on the far side of a cognitive divide, separate from humans, chimpanzees, dolphins and elephants.

In September, University of Wisconsin neuroscientists reported mirror self-recognition in their macaques. The findings have yet to be replicated, but still had profound implications.

Maybe humans had underestimated the intelligence of monkeys, as they had other animals who eventually passed the mirror test. More fundamentally, maybe the mirror test, a methodological remnant of a behaviorist legacy of animals as biological automata, reflects nothing more than a human inability to understand animals.

Image: Flickr /Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble