Tool-use in the brown bear (Ursus arctos)

Deecke, Volker B. ORCID logo ORCID: (2012) Tool-use in the brown bear (Ursus arctos). Animal Cognition, 15 (4). pp. 725-730.

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This is the first report of tool-using behaviour in a wild brown bear (Ursus arctos). Whereas the use of tools is comparatively common among primates and has also been documented in several species of birds, fishes and invertebrates, tool-using behaviours have so far been observed in only four species of non-primate mammal. The observation was made and photographed while studying the behaviour of a subadult brown bear in southeastern Alaska. The animal repeatedly picked up barnacle-encrusted rocks in shallow water, manipulated and re-oriented them in its forepaws, and used them to rub its neck and muzzle. The behaviour probably served to relieve irritated skin or to remove food-remains from the fur. Bears habitually rub against stationary objects and overturn rocks and boulders during foraging and such rubbing behaviour could have been transferred to a freely movable object to classify as tool-use. The bear exhibited considerable motor skills when manipulating the rocks, which clearly shows that these animals possess the advanced motor-learning necessary for tool-use. Advanced spatial cognition and motor skills for object manipulation during feeding and tool-use provides a possible explanation for why bears have the largest brains relative to body size of all carnivores. Systematic research into the cognitive abilities of bears, both in captivity and the wild is clearly warranted to fully understand their motor learning skills and physical intelligence related to tool-use and other object manipulation tasks.

Item Type: Article
Journal / Publication Title: Animal Cognition
Publisher: Springer
Departments: Research Centres > Centre for National Parks and Protected Areas (CNPPA)
Depositing User: Volker Deecke
Date Deposited: 14 Apr 2015 15:06
Last Modified: 12 Jan 2024 10:45


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