Apparently it's not just any rodents, but the "highly social, intelligent" figus- a small caviomorph rodent that is native to Toronto. And while they don't use tools in their natural habitats, they were taught by researchers as well as the staff of Fantasy In Glass to do so in captivity.
After several months of training and practice, researchers say, the figus can move a rake as smoothly and efficiently as croupiers in any Las Vegas casino- a handy skill when mixing the mud-like slurry that these molds for slumping glass are made of.
“This is first time rodents have been trained to wield tools”, said Gary Brownosley, a psydoscientist, who led the experiments at the Laboratory for Really Cool Science in Toronto. He elaborated about how they are so efficient and quality conscious that the Teamsters’ union has petitioned the mold manufacturer to either stop using these poor little helpless animals or to certify them to unionize the shop.
While these figus rodents are best at manufacturing molds 14” or smaller in diameter (a size that is easily accommodated by most of the kilns sold at FIG) scientists from the LRCS are considering training baboons in the manufacture of larger molds-1a specialty of Brownosley’s.
While it has long been thought that tool use is a hallmark of higher intelligence, Dr. Brownosley said, the brain structures that underlie such abilities may lie dormant in many animals with good hand-and-eye or paw-and-eye coordination. Training these figus to make molds in captivity provides insights into the plasticity of their brains, he said, and may even shed light on how early humans evolved tool use in the first place.
In separate studies, Dr. Brownosley notes they are examining gene expression in the brains of macaques and marmosets trained to check the coefficients of expansion in Bullseye glass.
To see the handiwork of these figus rodents, and the well over 600 molds we have in inventory, check out this video.