How Sniffing Poop Helps Monkeys Stay Healthy

We don’t eat food off dirty floors. We dutifully wash our hands. We steer away from the clearly infected. It’s all part of avoiding things likely to make us sick, and new research shows our primate cousins do it too. Except the mandrill‘s method is a bit more unsavory: smelling each other’s poop.

By detecting the odor of intestinal parasites in their group members’ feces, these central African monkeys identify who is ill—and then avoid grooming them.

Grooming is important to mandrills: It soothes conflict and builds relationships, as well as keeps fur and skin free of pests. But this social behavior can also spread parasites, such as E. coli bacteria and other microbes that cause dysentery.

“We found that gastrointestinal parasites were present on the fur. So it’s risky to groom a parasitized individual,” says study leader Clemence Poirotte, an ecologist wo works with the Mandrillus Project, a multinational collaboration to study the world’s only population of wild mandrills used to people. (See “Animals Have Evolved Into Parasites At Least 200 Times.”)

Poirotte and colleagues studied a group of about 150 mandrills over two years as they roamed the savannahs and rain forests of Gabon.

“The population is so well habituated, they just don’t care at all about us. We have the privilege to just observe what happens,” Poirotte says.

“Every day I spent with this population was maybe the coolest thing I had done in my life.”

Credit/Read More: National Geographic

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