Weird Nature
40.3k readers

11 Animals That Use Tools In Insanely Clever Ways

Updated May 26, 2020 40.3k views11 items

There was a time when people thought the use of tools separated complex Homo sapiens from the rest of the savage, tool-less animal kingdom. But now we know we're not nearly that special: not only are there animals that use tools, there are animals that make tools. When was the last time you made a tool?

At this very moment, there are wild animals using tools to catch food, protect their faces, defend themselves, and secure their homes. Some are simple and frankly rather obvious, such as using a rock to smash open a nut (you're not that smart, bearded capuchin monkeys!), and some are surprisingly complex (we have our eyes on you, bottlenose dolphin). Read on for some fascinating examples of animal tools you might not know about.

  • Bottlenose Dolphins Wear Sponges To Protect Their Beaks

    Dolphins won't make driftwood and shell axes unless they evolve opposable thumbs, but dolphins do a fine job working with what they've got. Bottlenose dolphins in Western Australia, for example, have essentially crafted a helmet/mask hybrid to protect their rostra (beak). It's called "sponging:" the dolphins pick up sea sponges in their mouths and "wear" them when probing the sea floor. The sponge is thought to protect them from sharp objects and noxious little critters.

  • Hawaiian Crows Use Sticks To Dig Food Out Of Holes

    Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Aloha, alala! A 2016 inductee into the exclusive "Animals That Use Tools" club is the Hawaiian crow, also commonly known as the alala. There are only about 100 of these dudes in existence, unfortunately, but they're hanging in there: researchers discovered in September 2016 that 93% of the population use sticks to dig food out of a hole in a log. That's not all: they also modify the sticks - like humans did with sporks - and toss out the ones they don't like. If they don't find an acceptable stick just lying around, they also manufacture their own "sticks" out of plant materials. 

  • Two types of wasps have been observed using tiny little pebbles as makeshift hammers, which officially makes a scary bug even scarier. Only female wasps do this, it appears, and they do it to close their underground burrows (they're locking their doors, essentially). Sometimes they take tiny pellets of dirt and "pulverize" them with "blows of the head" to secure their homes, but that doesn't always do the trick. Clever wasps use tiny pebbles held in their mandibles as hammers to pound the dirt "into a compact plug."

  • Woodpecker Finches Use Cactus Spines As Spears To Hunt For Bugs

    Photo: David J. Stang / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

    Woodpecker finches of the Galapagos Islands have a clever way of recycling fallen cactus spines: they use them as deadly weapons. Researchers says the finches hold the spines in their beaks, "effectively extending their bodies," to "push, stab or lever" bugs out of holes in trees. They're pretty picky about it, too: they shorten them if they're too long and will use the same one over and over if it's doing the trick. Interestingly, baby finches don't learn to use the spines from adults - they tend to learn by trial and error - and some adults never even use them at all.