Video: Monkey uses a tool … to pick her nose

It’s no longer surprising when a primate other than us uses a tool. But to pick a nose? That’s what a bearded capuchin named Acacia did one day while lounging around in a national park in Brazil (see video, above). Males of these small New World monkeys are famous for wielding sticks to poke under rocks and into cracks to flush out lizards. Yet after a decade of observing this group of 54 monkeys, researchers had almost never seen a female use a tool. So they were quite surprised to watch Acacia carefully slide a small stick up her nostril multiple times and sneeze as a result. She tried this with several sticks and even a piece of grass, checking and licking the probe after each poke, researchers report online in Primates. She used the sticks to pick at her teeth as well. Acacia may have been trying to clear a nostril, but using tools for such a job is rare. There’s one report from 1999 of a male chimp at a research site in East Africa doing so during a flu epidemic in 1999, possibly to clear a clogged nose. And long-tailed macaques living at a shrine in Lopburi, Thailand, pull hairs from women visiting the shrine and use the hair like dental floss to remove food between their teeth. But no one had seen this behavior in capuchin monkeys before. 

*Correction, 29 June, 9:30 a.m.: This item has been updated to remove a reference to a journal article subsequently identified as satirical.

(Video credit: Science/Michael Haslam/PRIMARCH)