Monkeys have hands or paws
behavior : Why do monkeys pee on their feet?
It may seem strange, but many monkeys wash their hands and feet with urine. Scientists now think they know why.
Since this strange behavior was first observed, a wide variety of theories have been put forward, from the assumption that it improves the monkey's grip when climbing to the thesis that it is a question of washing behavior. One theory that has received widespread support is that monkeys would wash with their urine to cool themselves off when it got too warm.
However, recent research suggests that it is social behavior.
That animals use rumors to communicate is not new. The classic example are dogs that mark their territory with urine, like other animal species. But when it comes to peeing on yourself, researchers previously assumed that physiological reasons could be just as important as social ones. It seems like they were wrong.
Primate researcher Kimran Miller and her colleagues at the National Institute of Health Animal Center in Poolesville, Maryland, observed capuchin monkeys in captivity for ten months. The scientists documented the temperature and humidity as well as the frequency of washing with urine every day. Their report, which will be published in the American Journal of Primatology, shows that the apes' behavior did not change with temperature or humidity.
Instead, Miller and her team discovered a connection between washing urine and seeking attention.
Alpha males, for example, wash twice as often with their urine when being courted by females. Scientists think that this is how males encourage females to keep paying them their attention once they have started.
And 87% of all fights or aggressive incidents have the loser washing themselves with urine. The team suspects that this is also a search for attention - in this case courting for sympathy. However, more research is needed to be sure.
"This changes the prevailing view that urine washing in capuchin monkeys has to do with thermoregulation," comments primate researcher James Anderson of the University of Stirling in Scotland.
"We see antelopes peeing on their throats, vultures pooping on their feet, and monkeys washing their hands with urine," says Fred Bercovitch, behavioral scientist of the Center for Conservation and Research for Endangered Species in San Diego. "It is obvious that urination is about more than just elimination and I am pleased that research is being carried out into why it is."
This article was first published on 9/7/2007 at [email protected] doi: 10.1038 / news070909-18. Translation: Sonja Hinte. © 2007, Macmillan Publishers Ltd
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