New Caledonian Crows are among the most amazing tool-users in nature. In the wild, they fashion sticks to poke beetle larvae out of holes in trees. In captivity, they’ve been seen using tools in a variety of complex scenarios.
In one, they fashion hooks to pull a bucket out of a tube. In another, they perform “meta tool use”: using two different tools in succession to obtain a third tool, which they need to get a food reward.
The videos of the crows doing this are just amazing! Check it out.
The crows were not trained to use tools like this. They figured it out on their own. There’s no denying how incredibly smart these animals are!
Elephants are spectacularly smart animals, and I found the list cited below of interesting (and mischievous) behaviors they exhibit. One really cool use of tools on the list is creating a “canteen” for water. After digging a hole to get water and drinking from it, an elephant was observed pulling bark off a nearby tree and chewing it up into a pulp. The elephant then plugged the water hole with the pulp and covered it up with sand. Later he came back to the hole and unplugged it and drank the water inside.
Dolphins are seen holding sponges over their beaks while forraging for food in seabeds. The sea sponge is said to protect the dolphin’s snout from being stung by the venomous stonefish, which is also a bottom dweller. This is an exciting discovery, partly because it is the first discovered tool use among cetaceans as well as being as well as being evidence of culture development among dolphins. Through the study of these tool using dolphins, researchers have theorized that this behavior likely came from one single female, who taught the behavior to her daughters. This behavior has been shown in the females of one dolphin family.
My favorite tool using animal is the Palm Cockatoo. They use tree branches as percussion instruments to attract mates, often going through several “drumsticks” before they find one that they like. Have a look at this video (or click the citation below). Hopefully you find this as amusing as I do.
Primates are known for their tool use, but one particularly cool instance was when a group of seven chimpanzees were documented over a 7-month period using long poles to try and escape from their (outdoor) enclosure. The chimps were selective in their choice of poles, casting aside those that looked weak or easily breakable. The chimps were even seen connecting two poles together to make a longer pole.
I’ll throw in the first invertebrate known to use tools, the octopus. The veined octopus takes coconut shell halves, crawls inside them and closes the “door.” They have been observed in Indonesia dragging the shells with them and with their suctions and then using them as a hide when needed. This is considered tool use (as opposed to say, a hermit crab using it’s shell) because the coconut shells are only useful when the octopus manipulates it, as opposed to a hermit crab shell which is always useful. Check out the video below!
My vote is definitely for orangutans making whistles out of sticks!
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