NEW SCIENTIST - A bug improves its hunting success by slathering itself in the sticky resin of a grass, in a rare example of tool use by insects.
Australian assassin bugs, from the genus Gorareduvius, are often seen resting on the blades of spinifex grass. This grass, a characteristic feature of dry regions of Australia, produces sticky resin that was quite popular with the first human inhabitants of Australia for toolmaking.
“I find the use of the term ‘tools’ appropriate in this context,” says Christiane Weirauch at the University of California, Riverside. “It is the same as insects camouflaging themselves with pieces of debris or ant corpses.”
Although tool use is often thought of as a sign of high intelligence, this isn’t always the case, says Weirauch. “I’d argue that tool use could be genetically hardwired as well as have some element of learning. We are looking at a gradient, with some animals such as assassin bugs being closer to the genetically hardwired and others, such as primates and octopuses, incorporating more learning into their tool use.”