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Science. Communication. Community.

Floss, Hammer, Throw

Next time you can’t bear to floss, consider this: a macaque might steal for such luxury. A charming new-ish book compiles and systematizes examples of tool use by our neighbors.

by Rebecca Widiss

Photo courtesy of Macinate via Flickr

Photo courtesy of Macinate via Flickr

Tool use. It’s an irresistible topic – but one that’s often treated in a one-off fashion by researchers or writers hoping for splashy coverage.  Animal Tool Behavior offers quite the opposite: a lively overview of studies documenting all manner of tool-use by all manner of species. This 2011 tome is the joint work of three researchers: Benjamin Beck, Robert Shumaker, and Kristina Walkup. The matching quiz below offers a smattering of the diversity to in their book. (As for its elegant organization — which allows for quick comparisons across species — that you’ll have to see for yourself.) Enjoy!

a. Push Over – pilfer clothes from soldiers and then roll boulders at pursuers
b. Insert and Probe – use human hair for floss
c. Symbolize – treat leaf bundles as dolls
d. Hammer – use pebbles, twig bits, or seeds to pound shut burrows
e. Throw – shoot water at insects, observers’ eyes and lit cigarettes
f. Anoint – anoint oneself with rattlesnake scent
g. Absorb – dunk prey in water, perhaps to create a hydration aid

1. Chipmunk
2. Orangutan
3. Bird
4. Fish
5. Baboon
6. Wasp
7. Macaque

Solutions below….

  • f-1 – Siberian chipmunks have been observed draping themselves with snake skins, likely to mask the rodents’ own scent
  • e-4 – I suppose everyone knows about archerfish. But I didn’t know some shoot targets as far as 3 meters away.
  • a-5 – This incident was reported by a Lieutenant Shipp in 1810. The soldiers retreated, rather than be pelted from cliffs by a troop of baboons.
  • d-6 – For reasons I don’t fathom, 15 different research teams have documented Ammophila wasps tamping closed burrows in which they’ve laid eggs.
  • b-7 – Flossing is apparently a popular activity for macaques living near a Buddhist shrine in Thailand. (Several women there report hair-snatching incidents.)
  • c-2 –Young wild female orangutans have been observed at three different sights making leaf bundles and treating them like infants.
  • g-3 – In one study, Brewer’s blackbirds were seen dunking grasshoppers before serving them to offspring

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This entry was posted on June 5, 2013 by in natural history and tagged , .
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