Puffin Picks Up Stick And Makes Science — The Reykjavik Grapevine

Puffin Picks Up Stick And Makes Science

Published January 3, 2020

Inês Pereira
Photo by
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States Of America

At first glance, a video of a puffin picking up a stick and scratching itself looks like pure internet-made entertainment. But as it turns out, the video actually gave science a breakthrough. A group of biologists found the recording of the itchy puffin and established it as evidence to indicate that seabirds use tools, in a paper published in the renowned scientific journal PNAS.

A video recorded last year, in Grimsey, North of Iceland, caught a puffin engineering a way to scratch its back by using a stick. In addition, another Atlantic puffin was observed using a stick to scratch its head, five years ago, in Skomer Island, Wales. The two cases indicate that, like very few other animals, seabirds use tools. This is an important finding concerning this group of birds because it means “that seabirds’ physical cognition may have been underestimated”, states the paper.

Video provided by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States Of America

The use of tools or, “the exertion of control over a freely manipulable external object”, as the group of scientists put it, is observed in different species, and different scales. Until this finding, the only wild animals who were observed using tools for scratching were primates and elephants. In the paper, it is added that this discovery means a great contribution to the “understanding of the distribution and adaptive significance of tool use in the animal kingdom.”

Not only does this mean a great addition to the list of animals known to evolve to use tools, but it also shows these great seabirds at their awfully cute best.

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