Posts about tool use

Chimpanzees Use Spears to Hunt Bush Babies

Video replaced with new one because original was removed 🙁

Savanna Chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes verus, Hunt with Tools by Jill D. Pruetz and Paco Bertolani

Although tool use is known to occur in species ranging from naked mole rats to owls, chimpanzees are the most accomplished tool users. The modification and use of tools during hunting, however, is still considered to be a uniquely human trait among primates. Here, we report the first account of habitual tool use during vertebrate hunting by nonhumans. At the Fongoli site in Senegal, we observed ten different chimpanzees use tools to hunt prosimian prey in 22 bouts. This includes immature chimpanzees and females, members of age-sex classes not normally characterized by extensive hunting behavior. Chimpanzees made 26 different tools, and we were able to recover and analyze 12 of these.

Tool construction entailed up to five steps, including trimming the tool tip to a point. Tools were used in the manner of a spear, rather than a probe or rousing tool. This new information on chimpanzee tool use has important implications for the evolution of tool use and construction for hunting in the earliest hominids, especially given our observations that females and immature chimpanzees exhibited this behavior more frequently than adult males.

The full paper, from 2007, was available as a pdf when I visited (I don’t really trust these publishers and what articles by professors they will block access to later when they don’t clearly say it is open access – in fact the journal broke the link on the post I made about this in 2007 now that I checked – sigh).

The full paper isn’t filled with overly complex scientific jargon (as scientific papers can be). In that sense it is an easy read; it is a bit graphic for those that are squeamish.

Dr. Jill Pruetz maintains an interesting blog the Chimpanzees she studies: Fongoli Savanna Chimpanzee Project

Related: Chimps Used Stones as HammersOrangutan Attempts to Hunt Fish with SpearBird Using Bread as Bait to Catch FishCrows can Perform as Well as 7 to 10-year-olds on cause-and-effect Water Displacement Tasks

Crows can Perform as Well as 7 to 10-year-olds on cause-and-effect Water Displacement Tasks

In Aesop’s fable about the crow and the pitcher, a thirsty bird happens upon a vessel of water, but when he tries to drink from it, he finds the water level out of his reach. Not strong enough to knock over the pitcher, the bird drops pebbles into it — one at a time — until the water level rises enough for him to drink his fill.

Highlighting the value of ingenuity, the fable demonstrates that cognitive ability can often be more effective than brute force. It also characterizes crows as pretty resourceful problem solvers. New research conducted by UC Santa Barbara’s Corina Logan, with her collaborators at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, proves the birds’ intellectual prowess may be more fact than fiction. Her findings, supported by the National Geographic Society/Waitt Grants Program, appear today in the scientific journal PLOS ONE: Modifications to the Aesop’s Fable Paradigm Change New Caledonian Crow Performances.

photo of Corina Logan

Researcher Corina Logan with a great-tailed grackle and a night heron at the Santa Barbara Zoo. The zoo is one of the sites where Logan is gathering data to compare and contrast the cognitive abilities of grackles and New Caledonian crows.
Photo Credit: Sonia Fernandez

Logan is lead author of the paper, which examines causal cognition using a water displacement paradigm. “We showed that crows can discriminate between different volumes of water and that they can pass a modified test that so far only 7- to 10-year-old children have been able to complete successfully. We provide the strongest evidence so far that the birds attend to cause-and-effect relationships by choosing options that displace more water.”

Logan, a junior research fellow at UCSB’s SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind, worked with New Caledonian crows in a set of small aviaries in New Caledonia run by the University of Auckland. “We caught the crows in the wild and brought them into the aviaries, where they habituated in about five days,” she said. Keeping families together, they housed the birds in separate areas of the aviaries for three to five months before releasing them back to the wild.

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Bird Using Bread as Bait to Catch Fish

Very clever technique. Quite an effective strategy to take a byproduct of people (bread) and use it to lure in your prey. I posted another bird fishing using bait webcast previously: that post includes links to more such videos.

Related: Orangutan Attempts to Hunt Fish with SpearDolphins Using Tools to HuntIntelligent Dolphin Strategy for Hunting Fish

Insightful Problem Solving in an Asian Elephant

Another example of very cool animal behavior. This Asian Elephant, seemed to consider the problem, devise a solution and then go get a stool to reach food that could not be reached without a tool.

Insightful Problem Solving in an Asian Elephant

The “aha” moment or the sudden arrival of the solution to a problem is a common human experience. Spontaneous problem solving without evident trial and error behavior in humans and other animals has been referred to as insight. Surprisingly, elephants, thought to be highly intelligent, have failed to exhibit insightful problem solving in previous cognitive studies. We tested whether three Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) would use sticks or other objects to obtain food items placed out-of-reach and overhead. Without prior trial and error behavior, a 7-year-old male Asian elephant showed spontaneous problem solving by moving a large plastic cube, on which he then stood, to acquire the food. In further testing he showed behavioral flexibility, using this technique to reach other items and retrieving the cube from various locations to use as a tool to acquire food. In the cube’s absence, he generalized this tool utilization technique to other objects and, when given smaller objects, stacked them in an attempt to reach the food. The elephant’s overall behavior was consistent with the definition of insightful problem solving. Previous failures to demonstrate this ability in elephants may have resulted not from a lack of cognitive ability but from the presentation of tasks requiring trunk-held sticks as potential tools, thereby interfering with the trunk’s use as a sensory organ to locate the targeted food.

Further inspired by Köhler’s chimpanzee studies, in experiment 4 we conducted 8 additional sessions to investigate whether Kandula would stack items to reach food. For these sessions, the baited branches were hung at a height that could be reached by stacking three butcher block cutting boards or by the use of other objects. In addition, the elephant was given sticks and other enrichment items. Kandula first touched several items and then moved two items, a plastic disk and a block under the suspended branches, placing one front foot on each in an unsuccessful attempt to reach for the branch. He solved the problem in an unexpected novel manner, moving and standing on the object closest in size to the absent cube, a large ball. Standing on unstable platforms such as this had not been previously observed. He repeated this behavior 9 times during this session. During the session’s last minutes, Kandula picked up a block ~2 m from the food and placed it directly on top of a block that he placed under the food in a previous attempt. He stood on the stacked blocks and attempted to reach the food but was unsuccessful. He stacked two blocks again in the second and sixth sessions but each time his trunk was several inches from the food.

This is very cool research. I do wonder why they didn’t provide more videos (and in a more user-friendly format than .mov files). I made them available via YouTube.

It seems like a very interesting area to have more experiments with more elephants (and continuing to work with Kandula: he seems to be very curious elephant, good for him).

Related: Orangutan Attempts to Hunt Fish with SpearBird Using Bait to Catch FishCrows Transferring Their Understanding to Novel ProblemCapuchin Monkeys Using Stone ToolsFighting Elephant Poaching With SciencePhoto of Fish Using a Rock to Open a Clam
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Photo of Fish Using a Rock to Open a Clam

photo of a blackspot tuskfish using a rock to crack open a clam

Blackspot tuskfish using a rock to crack open a clam. Photo by Scott Gardner

Diver Snaps First Photo of Fish Using Tools

While exploring Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, professional diver Scott Gardner heard an odd cracking sound and swam over to investigate. What he found was a footlong blackspot tuskfish (Choerodon schoenleinii) holding a clam in its mouth and whacking it against a rock. Soon the shell gave way, and the fish gobbled up the bivalve, spat out the shell fragments, and swam off. Fortunately, Gardner had a camera handy and snapped what seem to be the first photographs of a wild fish using a tool.

Tool use, once thought to be the distinctive hallmark of human intelligence, has been identified in a wide variety of animals in recent decades…

There have also been a handful of reports of fish cracking open hard-shelled prey, such as bivalves and sea urchins, by banging them on rocks or coral, but there’s no photo or video evidence to back it up, according to Culum Brown, a behavioral ecologist at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and a co-author of the present paper, to be published in a forthcoming issue of Coral Reefs.

The more we learn about animals the more tool use we find. It is continually interesting to see the wide variety of behavior documented.

Related: Bird Using Bait to FishDolphins Using Tools to HuntOrangutan Attempts to Fish with SpearAncient Chimps Used Stone “Hammers”

Friday Fun: Bird Using Bait to Fish

In the webcast an Aukuu bird (Black-crowned Night Heron) fishes using bread as bait. They normally hunt by waiting at the side of a lake and fishing. This individual learned how to bait the fish with bread and improve the fishing results. It also passed on that method to other birds that learned how to use the bait method themselves.

Another bird using bait (with turtles trying to get the bait) and another bird using bait (with a stork trying to steal the fish). And another one. The videos seem to be different species of birds to me.

Related: Orangutan Attempts to Hunt Fish with SpearDolphins Using Tools to HuntBird Brain experimentposts on animals

Bird Brain

Bird-brains smarter than your average ape

In a recent study 20 individuals from the great ape species were unable to transfer their knowledge from the trap-table and trap-tube or vice versa, despite the fact that both these puzzles work in the same way. Strikingly the crows in The University of Auckland study were able to solve the trap-table problem after their experience with the trap-tube.

“The crows appeared to solve these complex problems by identifying causal regularities,” says Professor Russell Gray of the Department of Psychology. “The crows’ success with the trap-table suggests that the crows were transferring their causal understanding to this novel problem by analogical reasoning. However, the crows didn’t understand the difference between a hole with a bottom and one without. This suggests the level of cognition here is intermediate between human-like reasoning and associative learning.”

“It was very surprising to see the crows solve the trap-table,” says PhD student Alex Taylor. “The trap table puzzle was visually different from the trap-tube in its colour, shape and material. Transfer between these two distinct problems is not predicted by theories of associative learning and is something not even the great apes have so far been able to do.”

Related: Cool Crow ResearchOrangutan Attempts to Hunt Fish with SpearBackyard Wildlife: CrowsDolphins Using Tools to Hunt

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