What is the closest thing that animals have to cooking?
March 22, 2008 12:20 AM   Subscribe

What is the closest thing that other animals have to cooking?

Do any other species cook their food, or otherwise prepare it?

My girlfriend suggested the chewing and regurgitation that birds do. That's pretty close.

Especially interesting would be information about any behavior like cooking over a flame, mixing two things together, or otherwise enhancing the taste or consistency of food. Super extra bonus for info leaning more towards doing it for pleasure, and less towards doing it out of necessity.

I would argue that birds regurgitate in order to make the food easier for babies to swallow(like human baby food), presumably not just for the preference of one texture over another (like a mashed potato).

There must be some writing about this kind of thing, right?
posted by white light to Science & Nature (26 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: What about raccoons soaking their food in water?
posted by loiseau at 12:26 AM on March 22, 2008

I remember that Jane Goodall went nuts about her chips using straws to extract termites from a mound in order to eat them, and that it, for her, constituted 'tool use' - but other than that, I got nuthin'.
posted by eclectist at 12:29 AM on March 22, 2008

While Googling around for an answer, I came across this bizarre forum thread called "Should Animals Cook Their Food?"
posted by amyms at 12:29 AM on March 22, 2008

Many animals will eat fermented berries. I haven't been able to confirm this, but apparently some of them actually seek fermented berries out specifically. Not really cooking as such, more taking advantage of natural cooking processes.
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 1:03 AM on March 22, 2008

Best answer: Also, there's a Science News article about ants doing something somewhat akin to cooking.
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 1:08 AM on March 22, 2008

The bunco-fied theory known as The Hundredth Monkey is based on real observations of Japanese Macaque monkeys who have learned to wash sweet potatoes before eating them.
posted by melorama at 1:23 AM on March 22, 2008

Food prep to remove inedible portions is very common--think nut shelling. Chimps also perform a behavior called pestle-pounding to crush the meristematic tissues of palms, softening the fibers enough for eating, which I think qualifies more as food prep since it's modifying the part of the food that will be ingested, not removing unwanted portions. (Chimps have lots of other tool-use behaviors as well, but this is the only food-modification one I can think of.) I remember some film, don't know where from, of orcas pounding the snark out of penguins so they'd slide easily out of the feathers and skin.
I'm afraid I can't think of any instances of cooking as defined more strictly as application of heat to denature proteins and destroy microbes for food prep. I can't think of where most animals would get access to such heat.
posted by agentofselection at 1:48 AM on March 22, 2008

Best answer: Bees make honey from fermented nectar.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:07 AM on March 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

Burying bones?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:39 AM on March 22, 2008

Neater even (to me) than the gorilla tool-use was a story I read about a crow who used a tool to reach a tool that he wanted to use. Cognitively, there's a lot going on there. The tool he got after reaching for it with another tool was something he used to get food from a place he couldn't reach, but it wasn't, I guess "cooking."
posted by TomMelee at 5:56 AM on March 22, 2008

Leafcutter ants use fungus as a tool to make the nutrients in leaves available.
posted by Jorus at 6:16 AM on March 22, 2008

I can't think of where most animals would get access to such heat.

Allowing a carcass to partially decompose (aka "ferment") provides its own heat; you could think of it as nature's hákarl, kimchi, or any of a thousand other skunky foods that people eat.

With cows having four stomachs, you could think of them as doing their "cooking" internally.
posted by Forktine at 6:34 AM on March 22, 2008

I read about a crow who used a tool to reach a tool that he wanted to use.

Vid of the crow in question.
posted by dobbs at 8:02 AM on March 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Bees have been know to bake an invading wasp or hornet with their own bodies.

Here's a video of them doing it. And a National Geographic film about the phenomenon.

This is of course sport cooking. They don't intend to eat the invader.
posted by Toekneesan at 8:53 AM on March 22, 2008

And of course, Patton Oswalt.
posted by DenOfSizer at 9:24 AM on March 22, 2008

Best answer: Crocodilians are known to stash their dead prey under water -under tree roots, for example- for long periods, so the softening of decomposition makes it easier for them to pull bite-sized chunks off. (Although a croc's bite is strong its teeth are not shaped for cutting up its food.)
posted by anadem at 9:28 AM on March 22, 2008

I'd like to comment on the Chimps or whatever washing the sweet potatoes - they like the salty taste after washing them in the salt water. There might also be some other benefits of washing them in the water too for them.
posted by Jack Feschuk at 9:28 AM on March 22, 2008

Around here, there are lots of walnut trees and lots of crows.
The stretch of road next to my house is fairly busy. The crows will often pick up walnuts, fly over the road and drop them. If they crack, the crow will swoop down and eat the tasty nut flesh. If the walnut doesn't crack, they won't pick it up and try again, but instead wait for a car to crush the shell for them. Certainly, this is not cooking, but if you've ever found yourself in a field with a lot of walnuts and no tools, it starts to look like some very damn clever food prep.

It should also be noted that the crows prefer dropping walnuts on the trafficked road to open driveways - which present much less danger, but also more work.
posted by terpia at 10:14 AM on March 22, 2008

Chimpanzees have been filmed cracking nuts. They find a piece of wood or stump with a slight depression in it, place the nut there and use a hammer stone/wood to break the nut open. Some of these pieces of wood have been shown to have been used by generations of chimps.
posted by wsg at 12:11 PM on March 22, 2008

Seconding WGP's "burying bones?", which deserves a best answer for it's elegant simplicity. /meta-meta
posted by rokusan at 12:43 PM on March 22, 2008

Some monkeys in Zanzibar have learnt to eat charcoal so that they can eat large amounts of almond and mango trees leaves without being poisoned. Not exactly cooking, but reasonably elaborate dietary behaviour nonetheless (link).
posted by kisch mokusch at 3:12 PM on March 22, 2008

Best answer: Here is a video of a crow using traffic to crack nuts.

I remember watching video an ape eating berries (sweet) and intermittently chewing on a type of sour reed (similar to rhubarb) to mix the tastes.
posted by Yorrick at 3:26 PM on March 22, 2008

Vid of the crow in question.

Holy crap!
posted by donovan at 5:43 PM on March 22, 2008

Best answer: I believe Marine Iguanas on Galapagos are unable to process the seaweed they harvest until it's been warmed, so they sit in the sun after diving both to reheat their bodies and to heat the seaweed.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 8:50 PM on March 22, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, there are TONS of interesting and "best" answers here...

For me it's a tie between the ant slurry described in L. Sjoberg's link, and Yorrick's description of what sounds like, basically, an ape's salad. And all the stuff with submerging food in water is pretty close to me cooking spaghetti... great posts!
posted by white light at 10:17 PM on March 22, 2008

The chimps are using two tools: the hammer and anvil.
posted by wsg at 11:31 PM on March 22, 2008

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