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Tools

Tools are the most used thing known to man kind, they help us build, eat, sleep, learn, and much much more. However I’ve grown to be curious if insects could use tools, so far to my knowledge some insect use tools, such as the Leafcutter ant, being able to use leaves to grow food.

But I want to know if they could learn or evolve to use basic tools like early man learnt to do.

Could they:

  1. Learn to make use of sticks and rocks
  2. Learn to make fire
  3. Learn to make and use rope
  4. Learn to make spears
  5. Learn to make traps
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  • $\begingroup$ do they have hand to grasp ? $\endgroup$ – Li Jun Dec 23 '19 at 0:01
  • $\begingroup$ Did you know: wasp use other insect leg as pounding tool! $\endgroup$ – user6760 Dec 23 '19 at 0:48
  • $\begingroup$ The wikipedia article on animal tool use suggests that 1. is already demonstrated en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tool_use_by_animals . Making traps seems reasonable given the behaviors of several insect predators such as the ant lion and trap door spider. Spears is a maybe a stretch but some spiders do cast web nets to hunt: iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/… . I would put the other activities in the category of needing more intelligence to evolve to enable their use/construction. $\endgroup$ – Terrance Yee Dec 28 '19 at 20:40
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No, because they ARE the tools.

Ants and other insects are small. In point of fact, they can't grow all that much bigger either with their current physiology because they do not have lungs, and absorb oxygen through their carapaces. This means that if they are not small, most of their internal organs would die of oxygen starvation beyond a certain size, unless the oxygen levels were much higher than they are now. As an aside, we believe that has actually happened in the past and some insects grew to much bigger sizes than they are now, but that is out of scope for this answer; suffice it to say that insects are small and in the current earth environment, can't grow much bigger, if at all.

The reason why their size is so important is because it restricts their brain size. Humans have much larger brains and dedicate around 25% of their energy intake into powering this massive organ, largely because of the increased success we gain over our environment with large brains capable of identifying patterns in our vicinity and experience and planning strategically around them.

Ants and the like can't do that; their brains are effectively autonomic controllers of the biological organism they represent, with a few instinctive commands built in that drive their behaviour in a very simplistic fashion.

Arguably, they are collectively intelligent but individually they are drones operating more or less on the programming they have been given by evolution.

Tools require intelligence and insight to identify and use. The chimpanzee who sees the relationship between that high stack of bananas and the stick lying on the ground nearby (which he then picks up and starts whacking the bananas with to get them down) is demonstrating a level of intelligence which an individual ant will never have. Ants don't solve problems per se; they act in a stimulus - response model of programmed behaviour that precludes individual thought and for them it's actually a good thing; without that instinctual behaviour set, they would die out as their brains are nowhere near as complex as they need to be in order to actually react (let alone act proactively) to their environment.

So; does that mean that ants and other insects are just mindless bots, so to speak? Well, not quite. Obviously they as a colony are capable of great levels of sophistication and we are always constantly amazed at what they can achieve as a group. How they organise themselves to do these things is a matter we are starting to understand with better clarity but part of their programming is built to react to certain chemical markers which other ants lay down, and which they are programmed in turn to lay down under specific circumstances. In other words, they are programmed but with some measure of data driven logic that allow for a measure of self-organisation.

In practice it means that every ant in the colony is a tool in its own right, serving the needs of the colony in the right way at the right time through a chemically managed form of data driven self-organisation.

The REAL question is whether or not ants could evolve at the colonial level to use other organisms within its construct (other than things like mold or aphid farming) and in time develop specialisations within its colony beyond the queen so that tools could be born organically into the colony as needed, or coopted from other species, possibly via a modification of the Cordyceps Fungus to alter other species to serve them. THAT is something I'd be interested to see as an evolution of a collective intelligence.

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  • $\begingroup$ i dont think banana is a good example since ripe banana is soft or squeezable it will be a mess if it wack it (unless its unripe banana) nor the banana will fall if it wack the tree (but the tree might though if he is that dedicated) beside most of banana tree is not that tall (excluding the tallest) $\endgroup$ – Li Jun Dec 23 '19 at 4:22
  • $\begingroup$ after thinking again maybe one or some of it can fall if it very ripe when it wack the tree, but it probably quite messy since it also falldown, i never see monkey or apes do that, they usually just straight up climb and take it, they may do wack other type of fruit though usually small fruit like berry/nut type. $\endgroup$ – Li Jun Dec 23 '19 at 4:40

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