Curious Creatures: Working With Tools

Curious Creatures: Working With Tools
Zoë Armstrong and Anja Sušanj
Flying Eye Books

I wonder how many children know that using tools for tasks we do often, daily even, is not confined to humans. There are, so we read in this enormously engaging book, animals in various parts of the world that display amazing problem-solving skills and adaptability, recognised by zoologists as tool using.

One such is the sea otter: these animals sometimes make use of kelp for several mooring purposes and also use rocks as hammer and anvil, for example to break open a clam shell or mussel to extract what’s inside for food.

Did you know, several creatures use sticks as tools: elephants in Bangladesh have been observed waving twigs or branches to ward off troublesome insects while others sometimes use a spiky stick as a back-scratcher. Indeed so Zoë Armstrong states, ‘the elephants choose the right tool for the job.’ So too we learn, do several primates: mandrills clean the dirt from beneath their nails with a small twig; gorillas sometimes take a long stick as a measuring device to gauge the depth of water they wish to cross before wading right in; and chimpanzees in Tanzania smooth a stick and use it to extract insects from a termite mound, eating them as we might a lollipop. I’d have been so excited had I been Dr Jane Goodall who first noticed and recorded this phenomenon.

I was especially interested to read though that tool use techniques among primates such as Orangutans sometimes differ according to the particular habitat in which they live.

Indeed some living near a research camp in Borneo’s Tanjung Putting National Park have been observed in a boat paddling it around with their arms – just one of several clever habits they’ve worked out.
Birds too are skilled tool users and author Zoë and illustrator Anja Sušanj provide several examples of them. Crows in particular are known to forage and perform other tasks with sharpened sticks they shape in a variety of ways: indeed New Caledonian crows are among the most skilled toolmakers in the entire animal kingdom.

Altogether a fascinating tribute to creature ingenuity: children (and adults) will be surprised and awed by these clever animals in a book that conveys a wealth of STEM information. There are lots of potential cross-curricular links: I particularly like the way these animals encourage child readers to think creatively to solve problems, just like the exemplars herein have done.

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