Primates, out now from First Second, is a book about Jane Goodall and chimpanzees and Dian Fossey and gorillas and Biruté Galdikas and orangutans. It's a book about all of us, and what makes us unique in the animal kingdom.
And about some things that are not so unique, as it turns out.
Goodall, Fossey, and Galdikas' discoveries were milestones in redefining what it means to be human. To paraphrase a 1963 quote from the mentor Louis Leakey, we used to define "human" as the animal that use tools. Now we must either redefine "tool", redefine "human", or accept chimpanzees as being human as well.
Since he said that, the list of potential humans has grown well past chimps...
The non-human characters in <em>Primates </em>have been documented using tools on many occasions: Chimps "fishing" for termites with a twig. Gorillas measuring water depth with sticks. Orangutans have even picked locks with paperclips!
Let's take a look at other uses of tool use across the animal kingdom: Capuchin monkeys have been observed banging pieces of flint on the ground to sharpen it and then use it to help catch prey.
Elephants us their trunk to assist them with everyday (and sometimes not-so-everyday) tasks: Using leaves to swat away bugs, or a branch to scratch their back. And, when presented with the opportunity, elephants have also showed an interest in painting.
Similar to chimp's "termite fishing", crows and ravens carefully choose twigs to get insects out of logs.
Though not necessarily "tool use", animals' construction of elaborate structures is evidence of manipulation of environmental elements and advanced planning. (an ant colony) (a bower bird nest) (a beaver lodge and dam)
Sea otters use stones to break open the shells of clams, oysters and sea urchins…and eat them!
Dolphins have been documented tearing off pieces of sea sponge and use it to protect their snouts while hunting for food.
In addition to their spectacular color-changing abilities, octopuses use seashells and coconut shells to hide from predators.
Octopuses have also been known to tear off the stinging tentacles of the Portugese man o' war, and brandish them as weapons.
Leaf cutter ants use leaves to fertilize and grow a special type of fungus that they eat…this is essentially ant agriculture!
All these discoveries have been rather humbling for us humans…