Turns Out Pigs Use Tools, Too

Watch the first-ever video of the swine at work.

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Trupthi Narayan
  • An ecologist has discovered that pigs use tools to dig nests for their offspring.
  • This is the first time we've witnessed that kind of behavior in pigs.
  • So far, no pig uprisings. But we must be prepared.

    Pigs have demonstrated their ability to use tools in new footage recorded at the Ménagerie Zoo in Paris. The clip below shows a Visayan warty pig, an endangered species originally from the Philippines, using a stick to dig out a nest in preparation for birthing piglets this coming spring—something that's never been recorded before:

    National Geographic reports that this "could signal a new cognitive skill previously unknown amid swine." It's actually surprising we haven't witnessed this behavior in pigs before, because they're quite smart; a study published in the International Journal of Comparative Psychology found that pigs have similar capacities to other intelligent animals, including dogs and chimps.

    Scientists made the discovery by accident. When Meredith Root-Bernstein, Ph.D., was observing the pigs in their enclosure, one of them picked up a small piece of wood and used it to dig into the ground. Root-Bernstein returned to the zoo several times to see if she could catch the pigs using tools again, but didn't witness them in action until the following spring, when she saw three pigs using tools to dig shallow holes.

    Visayan Warty Pig (Sus cebifrons)
    A female Visayan warty pig (Sus cebifrons).
    Ger BosmaGetty Images

    Root-Bernstein thinks this behavior may have been related to the pigs' birthing cycles, which occur approximately every six months, when the pigs dig little nests and fill them with leaves for future piglets. But when it comes to digging, there doesn't seem to be any added benefit to using tools versus using their snouts.

    "Maybe, it just feels like the right thing to do," Root-Bernstein tells NatGeo.

    Root-Bernstein and her colleagues put spatulas in the pig enclosure to see how they would make use of these new tools, but found that the animals didn't care for them. The pigs used the spatulas twice before they went back to sticks.

    For now, we don't know why pigs use tools. But it does forge a neat connection between humans and swine.

    "It brings us closer ... and helps us realize it's all connected," Root-Bernstein says.

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