National Geographic

English monkey gives itself a pedicure with self-made tools

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:

There are 6 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Trond Engen
    July 7, 2011

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

  2. Jay
    July 7, 2011

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

  3. Ed Yong
    July 7, 2011

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

  4. Stan
    July 8, 2011

    “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
    July 8, 2011

    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
    July 11, 2011

    Another video about ape using AK47.

    Not sure it is real.

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