RIGHT TOOL FOR THE JOB
Play has a serious side. According to new research, animals are better able to choose the right tool for a job if they have already had the chance to play with it.
Biologists tested the ability of kea parrots and New Caledonian crows – both inventive tool-users – to solve tasks using tools selected from a range of similar objects. Success might require a particularly stiff cord to poke at things, for example, or a block of just the right weight to depress a platform.
“Both species were better at selecting the correct tools to solve a task if they had the opportunity to explore them beforehand, suggesting that they were learning something about their properties as they interacted with them,” says Katie Slocombe of the University of York.
“We found no evidence that the birds changed the way they interacted with the objects after learning they could be used as tools,” adds Slocombe’s colleague Megan Lambert. “This means that the birds did not appear to explicitly seek information about the objects, but rather learned about their properties incidentally through exploring them.”
BEHAVIOUR A kea drinks from a leaking tap. This curious parrot is better at choosing the correct tool to solve a task if it can explore first.