Fish Join the List of Tool-Using Animals (Probably)

By Joseph Castro | July 13, 2011 10:12 am

spacing is important

In Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, a professional diver has photographed a blackspot turkfish smashing a clam against a rock to get the tasty treat on the inside—this appears to be the first documented case of a fish using a tool. But some people argue that this behavior, which is similar to a seagull cracking open a shell by dropping it onto a hard surface, does not constitute tool use because the “tool” is fixed and the animal never actually holds it.

See a nice round-up video of the news and the tool-use debate at HuffPost.

Image: Scott Gardner/Coral Reefs, DOI:10.1007/s00338-011-0790-y

  • Chris the Canadian

    This isn’t tool use. The fish doesn’t ‘make’ the tool, hold the tool, or use the tool. The fish simply drops a clam on the rock to open it. Now PETA are going to use this to say that fish are highly intelligent creatures that shouldn’t be caught for sport because they sense what’s happening to them and have feelings. Lovely.

  • winglessfae

    It still shows that they’re smart, whether it’s tool use or not. And who cares what PETA runs with? Do you complain about the adds from any of the companies in the beef or chicken industry? Ad campaigns are usually stupid anyhow, no matter who they’re from.

  • kakkulal

    it’s -creative-intelligent- hence it was advised for us to eat the head portion of the fish (the brain) which wood sharpen our mind. …….

    …..coming to use of hard rock surface for breaking the clam by the fish ……… knew that a hard surface required to break the shell… …..

    as human child who has limitation of lifting some thing and hitting the clam, fish too having on arms and also the limitation, the size of clam that it can hold………

    when we break a small nut/ coconut we do not use a hammer, neither our two hands simply hit with one hand ………

    in both above situations human/ fish actions of breaking shells, it is the hard surface is the tool available to fetch the results.

    hence the fish has used the hard/ selected rock for breaking the clam, that is the tool for that fish at that situation, and we shall not conclude at one observation let’s wait for more observations study …..further research required.

  • Jockaira


    You said “The fish simply drops a clam on the rock to open it.”

    Gulls use a similar technique to open mussels and clams; eagles to open the shell of a turtle; chimpanzees to crack nuts; and humans to crack coconuts. This possibly shows that the fish’s brain is capable of the same types of abstractive powers as those of those higher animals and that this ability has existed for several millions of years.

    By the way, I tried to “drop” a clam onto a rock underwater (just as that fish did) and it didn’t work. I tried this several times, still nogo. I am now looking for different clams to test your hypothesis, but I feel that perhaps I may not be understanding the process completely, that I’m doing something wrong…or maybe the fish knows more than me about “dropping” clams onto rocks.

  • Aussie fish guy

    The fish doenst drop the clam. It is wacking it against an anvil. Its pretty obvious its landing blows on the pointy part of the anvil as well to get the best effect.

  • Jason

    Tool use is a tough call. Otters break shells open with rocks, but they pick up the rocks and crack the shells open on their bellies while floating on their backs. The previous writer’s point about the anvil is quite valid. Come to think of it, I have several, “Tools,” I can’t pick up with my hands without other tools. Even as humans, our first tools were made of stone and wood. That’s why it was called, “The Stone Age.” As far as the Archerfish is concearned, people have been using water as a tool for millenia. If it’s good enough for us… Finally, Justin, I have Crows in my yard. Anyone that underestimates the intelligence of a Crow will probably be killed by Crows.


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