|Mink (image: user "MWanner," Wikipedia)|
The washing of food is an activity that humans share with many other animals, from raccoons to baboons. It's easy to do, and doesn't require much in the way of brainpower. Cooking food is a little different. It involves the controlled application of fire or heat, and is a sophisticated activity requiring high levels of intelligence and manual dexterity. The conventional wisdom is that humans are the only animals with the mental and physical equipment to pull it off, however there are a couple of animals we know of that apparently didn't get the memo.
One of them is Kanzi, a highly intelligent bonobo who is able to use matches and lighters to start his own campfires for roasting marshmallows. But he doesn't really count, because he was diligently taught what to do by his human minders at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa. In the wild, left to his own devices, he never would have figured it out.
There is one animal, however, that apparently has. A curious and unlikely creature that has taught itself how to cook. For real.
|Mink angling for trout at Missouri state hatchery*|
The mink is an opportunistic carnivore that will eat almost anything that moves. Crabs, frogs, rats, rabbits, insects, and even birds are all on the menu. Minks are especially skilled at hunting muskrat, which, accordingly to American naturalist Elliott Coues, they will pursue underwater and kill in their burrows.
However, much like their mustelid cousin the otter, what Minks prefer over anything else is fish. Tender, succulent, fresh-caught fish. Hence their attraction for the Missouri state hatchery, where they are frequently spotted fetching trout out of the raceways.
Catching the fish is one thing, cooking it is quite another, however at least one of the minks appears to have mastered the art.
About two years ago, hatchery director James Civiello was driving his truck when he began to smell the unmistakeable aroma of frying fish. Returning to his office at Shepherd of the Hills, he was surprised to see a lone trout lying next to his parking space. When he got out of the truck, the smell of cooking fish was even stronger, and seemed to be coming from the engine compartment. Popping the hood, he was surprised to find a dozen rainbow trout roasting to a crispy turn on his engine block.
|Weasel haute cuisine: engine-block roasted trout*|
At some point, this particular mink had made the pleasing discovery that cooked rainbow trout was tastier and easier to eat than raw fish. Which, in and of itself, is not that unusual. What's remarkable is that he figured out how to cook it himself. He didn't know how to build a fire, but he was smart enough to know that he needed a heat source, so he made use of the only available resource: the engine block of Civiello's truck.
And we think we're so smart...
*images: Missouri Dept. of Conservation
Sources & related articles:
"Trout a la Mink," Jim Low, MDC Online
Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery, Missouri Dept. of Conservation
"Fur-Bearing Animals: A Monograph of North American Mustelidae," Elliott Coues, Government Printing Office (Internet Archive)
"Did Cooking Make Us Human? (BBC Documentary)," EvolutionDocumentary channel, Youtube