one green planet
one green planet

It’s a common misconception that humans are the only species on Earth that uses tools. In reality, a growing number of animals – from our close primate relatives to pigs and even octopi – have been observed using tools. Some examples, such as primates choosing suitable rocks to break open nuts, are clear examples of tool use. Others are more disputed. But what makes a tool a tool, after all? Can spider webs be considered tools to trap insects? What if a spider uses its web to make a diving-bell-like device that traps oxygen pockets underwater that the spider can later use?

Questionable examples aside, many researchers do believe that some species can use tools. And in any case, the animals aren’t concerned about the human definition of tool use. Below are a few animals that use external objects to achieve their goals.

Primates: This list’s least surprising tool users are those that descend from common ancestors to humans on the evolutionary tree. Chimpanzees have been documented using many tools, including using sticks to fish for termites in holes and drumming on tree trunks, possibly to communicate with far-flung members of their groups. There are quite a few other primates that can use tools. Still, in Brazil’s Serra da Capivara National Park, one site has been used so long by capuchins that stone cobbles have changed in size and style over time, similar to the evolution of tool use seen at some human archaeological sites.

Sea Otters: Capuchins aren’t the only animals whose tool use has been around long enough to get archaeologists interested. Sea otters use stones in several different ways to break open their prey. They’ve been seen balancing flat stones on their bellies while floating on their backs, smashing shellfish open on top of them. Others smash shellfish against large boulders – often the same boulders repeatedly – while others use smaller stones to smash into shellfish that are left on larger stones.

Octopi: Tool use isn’t even limited to vertebrates. Video footage has revealed that the coconut octopus can use objects like clam shells as armor, carrying them around as they walk along the seabed with two tentacles at a time. The octopi also use these shells – or sometimes coconuts, hence their name – to hide in, waiting to ambush their prey. They can even maneuver two separate parts together as a single tool.

Crows: Forget simple rocks. Crows can Fashion tools out of multiple objects to achieve their goal. Researchers upped the ante when New Caledonian crows quickly showed researchers they could choose the right-sized stick to poke a meal out of a container. They presented crows with a series of small pieces that could be attached to make a stick long enough to reach the prize. Some of the crows in the experiment had no issue attaching the different-sized sticks when given some time.

Dolphins: Dolphins are widely hailed as one of the more intelligent creatures in the ocean. Tool use is just one attribute that sets bottlenose dolphins above the competition. Sea sponges are used by female dolphins as a tool to forage for food and are passed down through generations of dolphins.

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