TOOL USE IN ANIMALS

by Editor on December 15, 2009

An Octopus Species Is The First Invertebrate Documented As One Of A Growing Number Of Animals That Use Tools. Photo:Nick Hobgood

An Octopus Species Is The First Invertebrate Documented As One Of A Growing Number Of Animals That Use Tools. Photo:Nick Hobgood

Octopus Carries And Uses Coconut-Shell “Armor;” Critically Endangered Gorillas Launch “Weapons” At People

It used to be that we humans believed tool use was one of the main things that separated us from the rest of the animals.

Then the famed chimpanzee researcher Dr. Jane Goodall came along in the 1960’s and documented tool use among chimpanzees: She witnessed chimps modifying tree branches and then poking them into termite mounds in order to harvest a snack of termites.

The shock of Dr. Goodall’s discovery soon faded, however, as humans discussed it and finally concluded that, since chimps are our closest animals relatives and actually quite a bit like us in many ways, tool use among them probably should not have taken us by such surprise. But of course, tool use among any other species would be extremely unlikely . . .

Since then, however, species after species has been revealed by animal behaviorists to be makers and users of tools—and, unlike chimps, some of them are very unlike us. For instance, crows and other birds have been proven to use sticks to manipulate food and other objects in their environment.

Meanwhile, some monkey species as well as all the other species of great apes aside from chimps have shown themselves to be tool users. Orangutans fashion rain hats and build shelters out of leaves, while gorillas have been witnessed using using sticks to test the depth of streams before crossing them.

And in the most recent, and extremely poignant, example of tool use among gorillas, members of the critically endangered Cross River gorillas subspecies, which has been all but hunted to extinction, with about 300 individuals remaining, have been seen using sticks and clumps of dirt as weapons against people. The gorillas hurl these missile at humans whom they think are pursuing them.

But perhaps the most astonishing example of animal tool use is the recent revelation by Australian biologists that members of an octopus species (Amphioctopus marginatus; pictured above) not only use coconut shells as armor, but they actually carry around stacks of coconut shells for use in building small fortresses whenever they feel the need.

Not only are octopuses invertebrates—and the first invertebrate tool-users to have been discovered—but they are also mollusks, which means they are close relatives of such literally brainless creatures as clams, mussels and oysters.

Would you like to see some further information on the discovery that octopuses use tool? Don’t neglect to watch the video as well; it’s fascinating.

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