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Causes and consequences of tool shape variation in New Caledonian crows

Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle



Shoko Sugasawa, Barbara Christina Klump, James J. H. St Clair, Christian Rutz

School/Research organisations


Hominins have been making tools for over three million years [1], yet the earliest known hooked tools appeared as recently as 90,000 years ago [2]. Hook innovation is likely to have boosted our ancestors’ hunting and fishing efficiency [3], marking a major transition in human technological evolution. The New Caledonian crow is the only non-human animal known to craft hooks in the wild [4 ; 5]. Crows manufacture hooked stick tools in a multi-stage process, involving the detachment of a branch from suitable vegetation; “sculpting” of a terminal hook from the nodal joint; and often additional adjustments, such as length trimming, shaft bending, and bark stripping [4; 6 ; 7]. Although tools made by a given population share key design features [4; 6 ; 8], they vary appreciably in overall shape and hook dimensions. Using wild-caught, temporarily captive crows, we experimentally investigated causes and consequences of variation in hook-tool morphology. We found that bird age, manufacture method, and raw-material properties influenced tool morphology, and that hook geometry in turn affected crows’ foraging efficiency. Specifically, hook depth varied with both detachment technique and plant rigidity, and deeper hooks enabled faster prey extraction in the provided tasks. Older crows manufactured tools of distinctive shape, with pronounced shaft curvature and hooks of intermediate depth. Future work should explore the interactive effects of extrinsic and intrinsic factors on tool production and deployment. Our study provides a quantitative assessment of the drivers and functional significance of tool shape variation in a non-human animal, affording valuable comparative insights into early hominin tool crafting [9].


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere4
Pages (from-to)3885-3890
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number24
Early online date7 Dec 2017
StatePublished - 18 Dec 2017

    Research areas

  • Acheulean, Artifact, Chimpanzee, Construction behavior, Cumulative culture, Extractive foraging, Hook, New Caledonian crow, Tool manufacture, Tool use

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