First ever photo of fish using tools

Jul 11, 2011 by Deborah Braconnier report
Image credit: Coral Reefs, DOI:10.1007/s00338-011-0790-y

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new paper soon to be published in Coral Reefs reveals the first ever photographs of a fish, in this case the blackspot tuskfish, using tools to acquire their food.

Scott Gardner, a professional diver, was out diving Australia’s Great Barrier Reef when he heard a strange banging noise under water and went to investigate. What he discovered was the blackspot tuskfish with a clam in its mouth. The was banging and slamming the clam against a in order to crack it open. Once it cracked, the fish ate the bivalve inside. Gardner, having his camera with him, was quick to snap up some shots of this fish and its apparent use of tools.

While use was once thought to be exclusive to humans, researchers have found animals such as primates, birds, dolphins, elephants and even octopuses that use some form of tool. While it was suspected that some fish may use similar behavior, it had never been documented until these pictures from Gardner.

Culum Brown, a behavioral ecologist from Macquarie University in Australia, is the co-author of this current paper and says that the pictures taken by Gardner show that this fish was quite skilled at this behavior. Evidence around the rock show this was not the first crushed shell and believes that with more exploration, more fish species will be found to use tools.

This finding however has sparked the debate as to exactly what defines tool use. While the tuskfish is clearly using the rock to break the shell, it is never really “holding” the tool itself. Many scientists argue that this is essentially not tool use. However, Brown argues that this definition of tool use would restrict any possibility to only animals with an anatomy similar to humans. Fish do not have hands and the ability to use a rock to swing at the shell, so they use what they can.

To look at the debate in another way, think of humans that are born without, or lose, their arms and legs. They no longer have the ability to swing a tool in the traditional way, but because they may use their mouth to accomplish a task, does that make them any less capable of tool use?

Explore further: Bees able to spot which flowers offer best rewards before landing

More information: Tool use in the tuskfish Choerodon schoenleinii? A. M. Jones, C. Brown and S. Gardner, Coral Reefs, DOI:10.1007/s00338-011-0790-y

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User comments : 17

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Husky
1 / 5 (3) Jul 11, 2011
i vote tool
Telekinetic
2.4 / 5 (10) Jul 11, 2011
But what about the hammerhead shark?
cmn
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 11, 2011
But what about the hammerhead shark?


And, the electric eel -- they discovered electricity before humans! :)
Isaacsname
3.7 / 5 (6) Jul 11, 2011
Fish also use jets of water to excavate burrows, that is also a type of tool use, albeight from a built-in tool. Archer fish shoot water drops at insects above the water line, had they water pistols, they'd use em.
Djincss
2.6 / 5 (8) Jul 11, 2011
I think if the animal have learned to do it from the older generations it is tool use, if this behavior is genetically determined it is not tool use, in the term of intelligence.
Telekinetic
1 / 5 (6) Jul 11, 2011
The angler fish, has a built in fishing rod with a luminous tip that dangles at the end as the bait. An unsuspecting fish comes along and- GULP- the bottom-lying angler has his lunch. That kind of shrewdness beats tool use.
racchole
2.1 / 5 (9) Jul 11, 2011
The real tool here is the idiot saying this fish is anything less than human. Of course this is an example of using a tool. And I bet these fish are a lot smarter than most of us.
FroShow
1 / 5 (3) Jul 11, 2011
Every source I can find that defines "tool", hasn't limited it in the way described in this article.

Maybe scientists shouldn't debate semantics, but rather consult with linguists.
bluehigh
1 / 5 (8) Jul 12, 2011
only humans make tools.
Objectivist
2.3 / 5 (6) Jul 12, 2011
The real tool here is the idiot saying this fish is anything less than human.

Are you saying that a fish is more than a human? (Whatever that means.)

And I bet these fish are a lot smarter than most of us.

Well--at least one of us.
JamesThomas
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 12, 2011
only humans make tools.

Not so. Crow's can bend a straight wire into a hooked wire in-order to attain food.
Temple
5 / 5 (3) Jul 12, 2011
But what about the hammerhead shark?


Top drawer sir.
Telekinetic
2.3 / 5 (9) Jul 12, 2011
But what about the hammerhead shark?


Top drawer sir.

Nice to see that someone 'round here has a sense of humor. Cheers.
Shakescene21
2.2 / 5 (5) Jul 12, 2011
I don't consider this application the use of a tool. I've watched seagulls break open clams by dropping them on a concrete parking lot -- are they using the parking lot as a tool? I've seen pictures of cougars who climb a boulder and crash onto the backs of deer -- are cougars using boulders as tools?
However, I would consider the example of the crow who bends a piece of wire and uses it to spear grubs to be a valid case of an animal fabricating and using a tool.
Objectivist
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 13, 2011
I don't consider this application the use of a tool. I've watched seagulls break open clams by dropping them on a concrete parking lot -- are they using the parking lot as a tool? I've seen pictures of cougars who climb a boulder and crash onto the backs of deer -- are cougars using boulders as tools?
However, I would consider the example of the crow who bends a piece of wire and uses it to spear grubs to be a valid case of an animal fabricating and using a tool.

And I've seen many people getting used. Though in all fairness they were actual tools...
Sin_Amos
1 / 5 (1) Jul 17, 2011
What was this article about again? Commenting what? Oh...tools.
FroShow
not rated yet Jul 17, 2011
"A device or implement,... used to carry out a particular function" -Google "define: tool"
"any instrument of manual operation" -Dictionary.com
"a means to an end" -Merriam-Webster.com

If for some reason you don't see the actions of the fish fitting in with these definitions, I challenge you to find a better word than 'tool' to describe the use of the rock. I'm genuinely curious.