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Got an itch? Wild brown bear in Alaska is first of its kind to use a stone to exfoliate

A wild brown bear in Alaska was captured using a stone to exfoliate and scratch – for the first time.

Volker Deecke, a researcher at the University of Cumbria, UK, was on holiday in Glacier Bay National Park in July 2011 when he stumbled upon a brown bear in shallow water.

The young adult bear picked up a small, barnacle-covered stone, turned it around a few times, and then rubbed it over its face.

itchy bearItchy: The brown brown bear scratches itself with a rock

Deecke remarked that the wild bear, which has never been in captivity or around humans, ‘exhibited considerable motor skills’ and repeated the action three times with different rocks.

‘The bear started picking up rocks from the seafloor and manipulating them with his hands and eventually just scratching his face using this rock,’ he told Livescience.

 

‘The behaviour probably served to relieve irritated skin or to remove food-remains from the fur.’

He also noted that the bear was moulting and had big patches of fur hanging off its body, which could have been another reason the bear wanted to exfoliate.

 

Itchy bearPlayful: The bear inspects and tosses the stone in the air

 

itchy bearClever: The bear repeats the action a number of times

 

itchy bearPractical: The bear was moulting and and had big patches of fur hanging off its skin

 

itchy bearRefreshing: ‘The barnacles may have given that exfoliating feeling,’ Deecke says

 

Bears often scratch themselves with their claws, or rub their bodies against trees or boulders but picking up a rock and using it as a tool, takes a different thought process, Deecke said.

‘That boulder remains, physically speaking, part of the environment,’ he said. ‘To use a tool like this [rock], the animal needs to have the ability to extend the boundaries of its body.’

Brown bears, which have large brains for their body size, are able achieve this, Deecke said, adding: ‘That’s something that we just didn’t know about bears.’

The researcher added that while the use of tools is comparatively common among primates and has also been documented in several species of birds, fishes and invertebrates, it is the first time such behaviour has ever been exhibited by a bear.

‘There’s a real need to do more systematic research on their behavior and bear cognition in particular,’ Deecke said. ‘There’s more going on with these animals than I think we are aware of right now.’

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