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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