Tool Use In Fish

Photo credit: Scott Gardner

When I was in college, I had fish in aquarium.  I repeatedly tried to train them to retrieve a beer from my dorm fridge, open the bottle with an opener, and hand fin it to me.  Sadly after several hours of me miming instructions and elaborate PVC piping spanning between the aquarium, my couch, and the fridge, success was never obtained. Apparently, I was using the wrong species of fish.

Professional diver Scott Gardner captured photos of a a footlong blackspot tuskfish using a tool on the Great Barrier Reef. This fish would wack a clam in its mouth against rock.  When the clam broke open the fish consume the slimy soft parts.

The tuskfish caught on camera was clearly quite skilled at its task, “landing absolutely pinpoint blows” with the shell, Brown says. A scattering of crushed shells around its anvil rock suggests that Gardner didn’t just stumble upon the fish during its original eureka moment. In fact, numerous such shell middens are visible around the reef.

Dr. M (1621 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area. He has participated in dozens of expeditions taking him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow. He focuses often on deep-sea systems as a natural test of the consequences of energy limitation on biological systems. He is the author and chief editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular deep-sea themed blog, rated the number one ocean blog on the web and winner of numerous awards. Craig’s popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.





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