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August 03, 2010
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Monkeys using perfume? Study
Nov. 17, 2006
Special to World Science
Move over Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana and other purveyors of
glamor perfumes. The next rage in fragrance may be
Eau de spider monkey.
Scientists have been reporting sightings of wild spider
monkeys rubbing themselves with chewed-up leaves that may function
perfumes. Although it’s
unproven that they do it specifically to take on an aroma,
mounting evidence points that way, the investigators say.
The scents “may play a role in the context of social communication, possibly for signaling of social status or to increase sexual attractiveness,”
scientists wrote in the Nov. 14 advance online issue of the research journal
spider monkey (courtesy rainforestanimals.com)
In the report, Laura Hernández-Salazar of Veracruz University
in Mexico and colleagues described watching a group of 10 free-ranging
black-handed spider monkeys for a total of 250 hours.
The species, formally named Ateles geoffroyi, is one of four species of spider monkeys—small,
acrobatic primates that fling themselves among treetops and live between
southern Brazil and central Mexico.
Working in Mexico, the researchers recorded “20 episodes of self-anointing, that is, the application of
scent-bearing material onto the body,” all by two males.
“The animals used the leaves of three species of plants,” including wild celery, they
wrote. “The leaves of all three plant species spread an intensive and aromatic odor when crushed.”
To show that the
mishmash indeed functions
as a sort of cologne, researchers would have to demonstrate that it
isn’t being used for a different purpose. Primates and other animals are widely reported to use
certain plants as medications, and sometimes rub themselves
with natural substances that act as bug repellents.
(courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)
However, a small but growing number of researchers in recent years
have argued that some animals may anoint themselves with scents for social purposes.
Hernández-Salazar’s team found, in accord with a past study, that the
spider monkeys swiped the fragrant mix only on their armpits and breastbone areas, and
that this occurred independently of time of day, season, temperature or humidity.
The previous study—published in 2000—also found, consistent with
the new one, that males do it more often than females.
All these considerations, according to the authors of both
studies, clash with the idea that the lotions function as bug repellents or skin
Hernández-Salazar’s group recorded three plants being used: the Alamos pea tree,
Brongniartia alamosana; the trumpet tree Cecropia obtusifolia; and wild celery,
Apium graveolens. The 2000 study, by Christina J. Campbell of
the University of California, Berkeley, found Ateles geoffroyi
in Panama using three other plants. All from the Rutaceae
or citrus family, these included key lime.
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Move over Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana and other purveyors of glamor perfumes. The next rage in masculine fragrance might be Eau de spider monkey.
Scientists reported seeing two wild, male members of this primate group repeatedly dabbing themselves with something that seemed hard to describe as anything other than home-made cologne.
The crushed-leaf scents “may play a role in the context of social communication, possibly for signaling of social status or to increase sexual attractiveness,” the researchers wrote in the Nov. 14 issue of the research journal Primates.
The researchers, Matthias Laska and colleagues of the University of Munich Medical School described watching a group of free-ranging Mexican black-handed spider monkeys over a 250-hour period.
In that time, they recorded “20 episodes of self-anointing, that is, the application of scent-bearing material onto the body,” they wrote.
“The animals used the leaves of three species of plants,” including wild celery, for the surprising rituals, the researchers reported. The animals would mix the crushed leaves with saliva before rubbing it on themselves, they continued. “The leaves of all three plant species spread an intensive and aromatic odor when crushed.”
The monkeys swiped the fragrant paste only on their armits and breastbone areas, Laska and colleagues noted, and the occurrences of this were independent of time of day, season, temperature or humidity.
All these considerations together, they added, clash with the notion that the substance might function as an insect repellent or a sort of skin self-medication.
The black-handed spider monkey, Ateles geoffroyi, is one of four species of spider monkeys, small, very acrobatic primates with long, slender limbs that live between southern Brazil and central Mexico. They travel in small bands by making huge leaps among the treetops, sprawling out like spiders and grasping branches with their tails, which they use as a “fifth hand.”
Their diet includes fruits and nuts. The black-handed monkeys “bark” when threatened, and often hurl branches, jump up and down, and shake branches upon the approach of humans.
The plant species used were the Alamos pea tree, Brongniartia alamosana; the trumpet tree Cecropia obtusifolia; and wild celery, Apium graveolens.