Discover the 9 Animals That Build Things Like Humans Do

Written by Krishna Maxwell
Updated: September 20, 2022
Image Credit Irina No/
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Key Points

  • Some of the animals on this list live in the water and build just like we do!
  • Many of the animals on this list are beavers, elephants, dolphins, and primates.
  • Sea otters use stones like tools to open up mussels and other shelled creatures for food and then lay on their backs to eat them.

There are a lot of smart animals out there. Some are so smart, in fact, that they learn how to use things like tools or create their own devices and build things like humans do. Even animals that don’t have a history with humans know a thing or two about adapting from their environment to their advantage in food, hunting, instruments, weapons, canes, and more.

The following list of 8 animals that build things as humans do will show you the diversity of creatures that can improvise and create.

#9 Animal That Builds Things Like Humans Do: Non-Human Primates

The Macaques are one of several non-human primates that building things like humans do.


Several non-human primate species learned how to use items found in their surroundings to make things, and it wasn’t associated with human coexistence or development.

A Buddhist shrine at Lopburi, Thailand, is home to macaques that use visitors’ hair to floss their teeth, and they start teaching their young from an early age by imitation. Orangutans make whistles out of leaf bundles to warn away predators, while gorillas use sticks to walk with, measure water depth, or create makeshift bridges.

Our closest surviving relatives, chimpanzees, have been found to use stone hammers as far back as 4,300 years ago. They can also make spears for hunting other primates as well as special tools for digging out army ants.

Humans are fascinated with making things since childhood. But they aren’t the only animals that can build things in an organized way, think about how to solve problems, or use objects from their environment as tools or create tools. It’s incredible how rudimentary tools can serve a variety of purposes. Some animals have adapted tools for their everyday needs, while others can be taught to use tools. They prove that necessity is indeed the mother of invention.

#8Animal That Builds Things Like Humans Do: Elephants

Elephants are incredibly intelligent and have been known to show emotion and use logic.

Travel landscapes/

Elephants have brains that are larger than any other land mammal, and they are also one of the smartest animals in the world. You are likely to have heard how they grieve for their loved ones, but did you know they can solve problems?

That’s right, according to anecdotes, they have been known to drop rocks or logs on electric fences to short them out and use balls of chewed bark to plug up water holes against other animals.

Plus, Asian elephants use branches as fly swatters.

#7Animal That Builds Things Like Humans Do: Dolphins

A dolphin’s communication and decision-making skills often draw comparisons with humans.

Irina No/

Less than 200 years ago, dolphins learned how to use tools.

One species, the bottlenose dolphin, swims with sponges on its nose for protection while hunting for fish. The dolphin is the only other sea mammal that uses tools besides the sea otter.

Like all members of the whale family, it has acute hearing from 300 miles away or more. It communicates with sonar and echolocation rather than having to create aids, and its ability to make immediate, complicated decisions surpasses that of humans.

Second only to humans in brain-to-body ratio, it even has a language to communicate with another dolphin individually and not just in a group; in other words, it can create short conversations.

#6Animal That Builds Things Like Humans Do: Crows

Crows are innately curious creatures, often leading them to use nature for tools.

Rudmer Zwerver/

Crows can remember faces and use roads to crack open nuts they drop from high up. They also collect a variety of objects they are curious about, especially while young. Their natural investigative nature has helped them learn how to create tools from their own feathers, leaves, and twigs. And, like in Aesop’s fable, they can even learn to drop rocks in pitchers to raise the water level.

#5Animal That Builds Things Like Humans Do: Octopuses

In a surprising show of forethought, an octopus can plan ahead.

Henner Damke/

Watching an octopus unscrew a can lid from the inside is just one example of how intelligent octopuses are. The veined octopus uses coconut shells to build body armor which it wears while making its eight arms rigid like stilts to move across the seafloor, retiring it to use as shelter whenever necessary. It is the first reported invertebrate that can plan tools for later use, implying prospective thinking.

Coconut octopuses are among the smartest invertebrates in the world. They use tools, can carry their shelters around for when they use them. Octopuses can even walk in a similar way humans do, except underwater.

#4Animal That Builds Things Like Humans Do: Sea otters

The clever otter employs objects such as stones to crack open mollusks and other food.

Kirsten Wahlquist/

Many members of the weasel family are famous for their cleverness. One member, the sea otter, uses stones as hammers on shells and as anvils to crack them open. It’s thought they have been doing so for millions of years and without anything to do with humans. With a history spanning approximately 2 million years, Sea Otters are thought to be the first species to use tools.

#3Animal That Builds Things Like Humans Do: Rodents

Degus have been observed spontaneously stacking objects in order of decreasing size.

Tom Meaker/

Rodents are generally very intelligent, although we’re mostly only familiar with mice and rats. A relative of the chinchilla called the Degu can learn how to use rakes to collect food. Humans use rakes to clear leaves, but the Degus’ tool bears a resemblance to forks with regards to food.

Rats are known to collect a wide variety of objects and they often use them as tools. They are also known to help other rats and will share food with rats who are unable to reach it. Rats build elaborate nests filled with all of the things they gather and bring home.

#2Animal That Builds Things Like Humans Do: Beavers

Like humans, beavers cut down trees to build their homes.

Chase Dekker/

Both humans and beavers build dams, but for very different reasons. Beavers build dams to serve as protection from predators and easy access to food, while benefits to the ecosystem are that their dams prevent bodies of water from eroding and create wetlands that attract more animals that live in or near water. Humans build dams to store water, reduce downstream flooding, and make hydropower.

The presence of beaver along waterways ensure the health and diversity of the whole region.

#1Animal That Builds Things Like Humans Do: Bees

Though it might be tough to imagine the similarities between honeybees and humans, a lot of it comes down to social interaction.

Aleksandr Rybalko/

Many bee species nest underground. Some bees, however, take to creating hives and even adapt to man-made hives. It’s the structure of the honeybee‘s hives and the hierarchy that resembles humans most. Bees are to hives what neuron cells are to the brain. Individual bees are like cells inside the body. Each has a specific task that it performs during different parts of its lifespan. Each bee is a vital part of the hive, however, it cannot survive outside of the hive for more than a few days. The hierarchy in a hive consists of the queen, female worker bees, and male drones whose only purpose is to mate with a queen. Y

List of Animals that Build Things like Humans

Some animals have the incredible ability to build in a similar fashion a human would, here is a summary of those amazing animals:

9 Animals That Build Things Like Humans Do
9. Non-Human Primates (Macaque’s, GorillasChimpanzeesOrangutans)
8. Elephants
7. Dolphins
6. Crows
5. Octopuses
4. Sea otters
3. Rodents
2. Beavers
1. Bees

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About the Author

Krishna is a lifelong animal owner and advocate. She owns and operates a small farm in upstate New York which she shares with three dogs, four donkeys, one mule, and a cat. She holds a Bachelors in Agricultural Technology and has extensive experience in animal health and welfare. When not working with her own animals and tending her farm, Krishna is helping other animal owners with behavior or management issues and teaching neighboring farmers about Regenerative Agriculture practices.

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