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12 Incredible Animals That Use Tools (with Pictures!)

For a long time, the use of tools was considered one of the things that separated man from beast. However, the more we study the natural world around us, the more animals we find using tools to make life easier. Most animals that use tools use them to hunt or gain access to food. This gives them the evolutionary edge over the other species in their environment.

Animals That Use Tools

In this article, we will be taking a look at 12 incredible animals that use tools and how they use them.

1. Egyptian Vultures

Egyptian vultures

Scientific name: Neophron percnopterus

The Egyptian vulture is native to Africa and parts of Central Asia. These birds feed on carrion, feces, rabbits, small animals, and the eggs of other birds.

A favorite food of the African population of Egyptian vultures is ostrich eggs. Their beaks alone aren’t strong enough to break them open, so they pick up round pebbles and bash them against the egg until it cracks and they can feed.

Bulgarian populations are also known to use twigs as a tool. These birds like to use wool to line their nests, but to collect it more efficiently, they take twigs and use them to collect and wrap wool.


2. Crows and Ravens

Crows and ravens are highly intelligent birds that are known to use tools both in the wild and in captivity. Both ravens and crows will most commonly use sticks as tools to pull bugs and other food items out of hard-to-reach places. They will also drop rocks into bowls or cups to raise the water level enough for them to reach floating food items.

While these are some of the more natural tool uses, crows in captivity have been observed using even more difficult tools like locks and puzzles to get what they want.


3. Elephants

African bush elephants

In the wild, elephants are known to use tools for a variety of reasons. They will frequently break small trees and sticks and use them to scratch hard-to-reach places like their backs. They are also known to throw rocks at things they want to break, though that is mostly relegated to more aggressive animals.

In captivity, elephants can be trained to use all kinds of tools. You may have seen a circus elephant standing on a ball, or even using a paintbrush to create art. The limits of what elephants can learn to use seem to be endless.


4. Dolphins

As one of the smartest mammals in the sea, it’s not too surprising that dolphins have learned to use tools. The main tool that dolphins utilize is rocks. Like the Egyptian vulture, dolphins use rocks to break into their food source, only instead of eggs, it’s oysters and clams.

There are also isolated populations of Australian bottlenose dolphins that have learned to use sponges as tools. They place the sponges on the tips of their noses before burrowing into the sand in search of food. The sponges protect the dolphin’s nose from any sharp objects they may encounter while searching.


5. Octopus

Octopus

Octopuses are incredibly intelligent. These animals have been known to open jars in captivity to get food, and when placed in jars underwater they are also able to let themselves out.

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One keeper at an aquarium told the story that he accidentally gave an octopus in his care a bad shrimp. It escaped its enclosure to toss said shrimp at him, then let itself back into its enclosure and acted as if nothing had happened.


6. Otters

River Otters | image by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Southeast Region via Flickr

These cute mammals are known to feed heavily on clams and in order to open the clamshells, they must bang rocks onto the shell to get them to open. Many otters will take care to find the perfect rock and then carry that rock with them when they need it.


7. Rats

Many studies have been conducted on lab rats and their capacity to learn. Rats have been able to learn sequences in order to get food, by pressing certain buttons and retrieving particular toys in order to earn rewards.

Many pet rats have also been trained to exhibit these fun behaviors, so if you want to see animals using tools, you may just need to get a rat and train it to do tasks.


8. Chimpanzees

Another avid tool user is the chimpanzee. These animals are often found using tools to secure food. They will take sticks and place them in termite mounds or ant hills and pull them out covered in tasty insect snacks. They will also use rocks to smash open nuts and other hard food items.


9. Orangutans

Like many other apes, orangutans are also known to use tools to make their lives easier. They utilize sticks as back and neck scratchers similar to elephants. They are also known to build themselves shelters out of sticks and large leaves.

Some orangutans have even been spotted using large leaves similar to a raincoat. Placing their head through a hole in the leaf in an effort to keep themselves dry in the rain.


10. Gorillas

Gorillas, like chimpanzees, have been seen using sticks to catch bugs like termites and ants. They will also use sticks like we use utensils to pick up their food instead of using their hands.

Some gorillas will also use sticks to test the depth of water and make sure it’s not too deep before they wade in.


11. Dogs

bloodhound

While there aren’t many wild dogs using tools, domestic dogs have been trained to use tools to aid their owners. Many dogs are trained as service dogs and know how to use tools to accomplish tasks their owners can’t.

Some examples of this are dogs that are trained to hit a panic button or a speed dial button on a phone when their owners are experiencing medical distress. As well as pulling on ropes to open and close doors and turn on and off lights.


12. Humans

As far as we know, humans were the first evolved tool users. Some of the original tools we made were clothes, torches, bags, and hunting implements like spears and knives. Without our use of tools, it’s unlikely that our species would have grown to be as successful as we have and we may not have survived at all.