Primate Spa-sation

July 25, 2011

Torah Kachur

The evolution of an opposable thumb has allowed humans countless opportunities to shape our environment, from making stone tools to playing video games.  I just never expected that a priority of using this incredible appendage would be to make a tool for cleaning out your toenails. 


It was a monumental discovery by Jane Goodall that chimps 'fish' for termites using tools.  Not only do the chimps use sticks they find, they actually manipulate sticks by stripping them of stems to fashion better tools.  The idea that chimps can create tools to suit their purpose shows planning, foresight and a spatial awareness that humans have never wanted to ascribe to our closest cousins.  Humans want to feel special and, of course, we are unique.... just like every other species.


Since Dr. Goodall's research in the 60s many examples of tool use by primates (both monkeys and apes) have been discovered.  The first 'hard' evidence of tool use by monkeys was in 2004 when a group of researchers from Cambridge observed capuchin monkeys in the wild using stones to help forage for food, cracking nuts and digging up roots.  More data has been added since then including in 2007 a group from Iowa State University observed chimpanzees sharpening sticks used for hunting the adorable bush baby. 


Tools for hunting and eating aren't too surprising, after all necessity is the mother of all invention.  But how far have primates gone with their creativity with tools?

1)  Pulling hair off tourists heads for dental floss

2)  Masturbating with lianas by female bonobos

3)  Cleaning out toenails


Mandrill toenail pedicure tool use primate


The most recent discovery was made at the Chester zoo where their resident mandrill was observed using a stick to clean his toenails. There is even a video.  The motivation is still unclear, it may be for hygiene or just for their vanity but either way, we have to realize (yet again) that we have seriously underestimated the intelligence of our hairier family members.


Personally, I would probably use my opposable thumb to try and pick the lock on my cage before giving myself a pedicure.   Or use it to master Mario Bros.



Email (optional)


© 2010 Science in Seconds. All rights reserved.     Disclaimer  |  Contact  |  Subscribe
Friend Science in Seconds on Facebook Follow Science in Seconds on Twitter Science in Seconds RSS Feed