Image 1 - Bear Spotted Utilizing A Rock As A Tool
March 7, 2012

Bear Spotted Utilizing A Rock As A Tool

A British scientist, on vacation recently in Alaska´s Glacier Bay National Park, made a phenomenal discovery. While he was photographing a wild brown bear, the animal picked up a barnacle covered stone and began rubbing it on the side of its face.

According to Dr. Volker Deecke, of the University of Cumbria, bears could be more advanced than previously thought. Dr. Deecke speculates that the bear was molting and used the stone to rub off fur, or because it may have had irritated skin. Normally bears will rub against trees or boulders or use their claws to remove excess fur.

This new discovery offers speculation that bears may be more advanced cognitively than previous expected.

Deeke told BBC News: “These animals do have relatively large brains compared to their body size, the largest of any carnivore, and much larger than more social carnivores, like lions. From a cognitive perspective it´s something quite sophisticated and requires certain brain processing powers that we didn´t know bears had.”

Humans are at the top of the list when it comes to mammals using tools. This new finding makes bears the fifth non-primate mammal to be discovered using tools. Other mammals include sea otters that use stones to smash open the shells of urchins and clams. Asian elephants sometimes use tree branches to shoo away flies, some bottlenose dolphins cover their rostrum with sponges while hunting for food and humpback whales use bubbles to trap schools of fish.

The observation of the bear was only that, a single observation. Researchers need to verify the finding by observing the trait in other bears. “We don´t know how common this behavior is, but I think the real learning experience has been for me is how little we actually know about cognitive abilities of bears in general and brown bears specifically.”

The findings are published in the journal Animal Cognition.


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