TOOL TIME A female bearded capuchin uses a thin stick to probe its nose (left) and teeth (right).
M. Haslam and T. Falótico/Primates 2015 (CC BY 4.0)
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.
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