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 (1729 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, a National Science Foundation supported initiative. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (, a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web. His forthcoming book, Science of the South (, connects cultural icons of South such as pecan pie with the science behind them.

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