Book Chapter

Sequential tool use.



Martin-Ordas G (2017) Sequential tool use.. In: Shackelford T & Weekes-Shackelford V (eds.) Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

Tool use is a widespread behavior among many nonhuman animal species (e.g., Shumaker et al. 2011). However, nonhuman primates and corvids have produced the most extraordinary examples of tool-use behaviors. In the wild, for example, chimpanzees at Gombe (Tanzania) have been reported to plunge little sticks into termite mounds in order to access the termites. Similar behaviors have been described in New Caledonian crows – they use small twigs to extract insects from holes in logs. These two examples represent instances of using a single tool to obtain food (Shumaker et al. 2011). Although more uncommon, instances in which the use of two or more tools is required to obtain a particular goal – so-called associative tool behavior (Shumaker et al. 2011) – have also been demonstrated in animals. Associative tool behaviors encompass cases in which animals use a tool to support another tool, so-called metatool use, to modify or manufacture another tool, secondary tool use, as well as instances in which two or more tools are used in sequence and each tool is used in a different mode, so-called serial tool use or tool set. An example that falls in the last category has been described in the chimpanzees of the Goualougo Triangle (Republic of Congo). When trying to access the termites from subterranean nests, the chimpanzees first use a puncturing stick on the ground and second a fishing probe that allows them to obtain the termites (Sanz et al. 2004). Importantly, a tool can also be used to obtain a second out-of-reach tool, which subsequently will serve to obtain an out-of-reach goal – so-called sequential tool use. According to Shumaker et al. (2011), in the animal tool-use research, the categories metatool use and sequential tool use have been mistaken and considered to be equivalent categories. However, as pointed out by Shumaker et al. (2011), “a metatool is not used to acquire another tool but rather to increase the efficiency or effectiveness of the second tool” (p. 20). Thus, an orangutan using a stick to push a paper towel into a puddle of edible liquid is not an example of sequential tool use but an example of metatool use (Shumaker et al. 2011). In addition, whereas sequential tool use has been reported in primates and corvids, metatool use has only been observed in primates.

Publication date31/12/2017
Publication date online24/10/2016
Place of publicationCham, Switzerland

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Dr Gema Martin-Ordas

Dr Gema Martin-Ordas

Senior Lecturer, Psychology