Orangutans in captivity use a variety of tools with very little intervention from humans. In one experiment, orangutans used stone flints to cut open a food container and to open a puzzle box. Captive orangutans have also been observed for years using handsaws and axes. This behavior is very different from the orangutans in the wild. However, wild apes do use tools to perform simple tasks. For example, orangutans have been observed using sticks to scrape the seeds out of fruit, while others use leaves to make themselves sound more formidable.
Honey badgers are skilled climbers that have frequently been caught on video using tools to reach high places. In captivity, the clever animals will stack mud, rocks, sticks, and anything around them to help them climb. A video that went viral in 2014 featured a honey badger can be seen using everything from logs and stones to rakes, shovels, and tires to climb out of its enclosure. In the wild, honey badgers have also been observed carrying logs to trees to get out-of-reach food, including honeybee hives, which the animals are particularly fond of. Honey badgers are so determined to reach honey that some honey farmers have to hang their hives away from any tools they can climb.
The Egyptian vultures use a few tools to make their lives easier. One of the mainstays of the bird’s diet is the giant ostrich egg. The egg has an extremely thick shell that usually requires a hammer or drill for humans to crack. Egyptian vultures solve this problem by making their own hammer using flat, rounded rocks held tightly in its beak to pound the eggshell until it cracks. The birds have also been observed engaged in the unusual activity of rolling wool with sticks. The wool is used in the construction of the vulture’s nest.
In 2014, a researcher near Wales spotted a puffin using a stick to scratch itself. But it would be another four years before she could finally capture the action using motion capture cameras in Wales and Iceland. The camera recorded two different puffins hundreds of miles apart, scratching their backs and chest with sticks. Tool use had never been observed before in the birds, which, like other seabirds, had not been considered to be particularly intelligent. Parrots are the only other birds that have been observed using sticks to scratch. The researchers believe that the difficulty in observing seabirds may have caused us to miss other signs of tool use. “‘Seabirds’ cognitive capacities may have been considerably underestimated,” they wrote.
A species of wrasse, a family of brightly colored tropical fish, was the first fish confirmed to use tools. In a video captured in 2011 by a diver in the Great Barrier Reef, the orange-dotted tusk fish can be seen digging a cockle out of the sand and carrying it some distance in its mouth to a large rock. The fish then proceeded to slam the shellfish against the rock until it opened. Similar behaviors had been described in other wrasses, but the images represented the first photo evidence of the ability. The images were published in a scientific journal, and the researchers stressed that the discovery opened a world of possibilities. “We really need to spend more time filming underwater…It really is the final frontier down there,” they said in a press release.
Grizzly bears aren’t just fearsome hunters. They’re also highly-intelligent creatures that can use tools to acquire food. In a 2014 Washington State University study, researchers found that when the bears were presented with treats that hanging was just out of reach, they quickly figured out how to solve the problem. They pushed tree stumps under the dangling treats, then climbed on top to reap the rewards. The study wasn’t the first evidence that bears can use tools, although it was the most compelling. Brown bears have been observed using rocks covered in barnacles as part of their grooming regimen.
Grooming is a common trait across animals of all types. But primates are among a few animals that use tools to aid their grooming routine. Mandrills may look menacing, but the apes actually spend a good amount of time fussing over hygiene. They fashion a tool out of grass and sticks to clean out their ears and prevent ear infections. Some mandrills use whittle twigs to clean under their nails. Macaques in Thailand have been known to swipe hair straight from people’s heads to use as floss. Chimps use small sticks to groom their skin, and bonobos sometimes use “sponges” made of chewed leaves and moss.
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