English monkey gives itself a pedicure with self-made tools

By Ed Yong | July 7, 2011 6:00 pm

Animals use tools to get food, communicate with one another, defend themselves or even have a scratch. But in Chester Zoo, England, one monkey uses tools to give itself a pedicure.

Riccardo Pansini and Jan de Ruiter from Durham University watched a 18-year-old mandrill called JC clean his toenails out using small splinters. He made them himself, fashioning them from wood chips and twigs on the floor his enclosure, and honing them till they were small and sharp.

JC is the alpha male of the zoo’s six-strong group of mandrills. Over three months of observations, Pansini and de Ruiter saw JC give himself a pedicure seven times. On a couple of occasions, he ignored the wood altogether and just plucked out one of his own hairs to clean his nails with.

Many animals will use tools, but it’s not often that they modify those tools to make them more suitable for their needs. Chimps do it, as do New Caledonian crows. Among monkeys, biologists have documented a capuchin dressing her baby’s head wound with modified plants, spider monkeys making back-scratchers out of sticks, and Japanese macaques using their own wetted hair as dental floss. Some long-tailed macaques in a Thai temple will even make floss out of human hair – freshly plucked, no less.

Now, mandrills can join this exclusive club. Whether wild mandrills use tools in this way is not clear. It’s possible that JC, being well fed and sheltered, had more time to experiment with new tools and behaviours than his wild cousins would have. And one obvious question remains: why would a mandrill need to clean under its toenails?

Reference: Pansini, R., & de Ruiter, J. (2011). Observation of tool use and modification for apparent hygiene purposes in a mandrill Behavioural Processes DOI: 10.1016/j.beproc.2011.06.003

More English zoo mandrills doing amusing things: Monkey see, monkey facepalm

More animal tool use:

Comments (6)

  1. Trond Engen

    It’s a male routine, a, a, a mandri…… Damn’, I was sure there would be a pun in here.

  2. Jay

    So… he aged 9 years between the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs? That’s more amazing than his tool usage!

  3. And the worst thing was that neither figure was correct :-/ Fixed now.

  4. “Apparent hygiene purposes” seems a reasonable inference. Looks like this mandrill (metrodrill?) has been at the make-up, too. Good for him.

  5. chris y

    why would a mandrill need to clean under its toenails?

    Because he hasn’t invented shoes and socks yet? Give him a couple of years.

  6. AG

    Another video about ape using AK47.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhxqIITtTtU

    Not sure it is real.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Not Exactly Rocket Science

Dive into the awe-inspiring, beautiful and quirky world of science news with award-winning writer Ed Yong. No previous experience required.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »