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How Bizarre

A monkey uses a stick to pick its teeth and nose

Capuchin in Brazil is first observed in wild using nasal probe

By
9:00am, September 6, 2015
bearded capuchin monkey

TOOL TIME  A female bearded capuchin uses a thin stick to probe its nose (left) and teeth (right).

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Nose picking isn’t a mark of distinction among people — but it is among monkeys. For the first time, researchers have reported a wild capuchin monkey using a tool to pick its nose and teeth.

The monkey was caught in the act last year by Michael Haslam of the University of Oxford. For about five minutes, an adult female bearded capuchin (Sapajus libidinosus) in northeastern Brazil repeatedly inserted a twig or stem into its nostril, usually inducing a sneeze. The monkey also rubbed sticks back and forth against the base of its teeth, probably to dislodge debris, Haslam and Oxford colleague Tiago Falótico report in the July Primates. After picking its nose or teeth, the monkey often licked the tool tip, perhaps to wipe the stick clean.

Bearded capuchins are quite handy, brandishing rocks to crack open nuts (SN Online: 4/30/15) and sticks to retrieve insects from crevices or to collect honey. But until now, no one had seen a wild capuchin use a tool as a nasal probe or toothpick. 


RESOURCEFUL MONKEY  Bearded capuchins in Brazil’s Serra da Capivara National Park are skilled nut crackers. At least one monkey also uses tools to pick its nose (probably to induce a sneeze) and teeth.

Credit: Serra da Capivara National Park, Primates 2015 

Citations

M. Haslam and T. Falótico. Nasal probe and toothpick tool use by a wild female bearded capuchin (Sapajus libidinosus). Primates. Vol. 56, July 2015, p. 211. doi: 10.1007/s10329-015-0470-6.

Further Reading

B. Bower. Rock-wielding monkeys make adjustments when cracking nuts. Science News Online, April 30, 2015.

B. Bower. Capuchin monkeys choose the right tool for the nut. Science News. Vol. 175, February 14, 2009, p. 12.

M. Mannu and E.B. Ottoni. The enhanced tool-kit of two groups of wild bearded capuchin monkeys in the Caatinga: tool making, associative use, and secondary tools. American Journal of Primatology. Vol. 71, March 2009, p. 242. doi: 10.1002/ajp.20642.

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