Most of us will use a tissue to blow our noses when we get all bunged up – or at least I hope you do – but what if you live in the remote rocky mountains of Brazil and don't have one to hand? Well, perhaps you could take a leaf out of the bearded capuchin's book and pick your nose with a stick. And if you really wanted, you could copy them further and then eat your boogers. Delicious.
While observing these monkeys in the Serra da Capivara National Park, researchers from Oxford University saw an adult female, Acácia, do something they’ve never seen before. Slowly but purposefully, she poked a stick up her nose, then pulled it out and licked it. This nose-picking behavior is one of the only known examples of a female bearded capuchin using a stick as a tool. Not only this, but she also took another twig and used it as a tooth pick. The study is published in the journal Primates.
These clever little monkeys are well known for using tools, often carrying rocks from one location to another so that they can smash nuts and seeds open to get at the tasty insides. But the use of sticks is, for some unknown reason, gender biased. Even though the primates have been watched for the past ten years, the vast majority of stick tool use has only ever been seen in the males. They use them for extracting honey, dislodging lizards from rock crevices and probing holes for insects, all foods that females also eat, so why they don’t use sticks to get at them like the males remains a bit of a mystery.
In fact, according to the researchers, “the only prior instance of an adult female using a stick tool was when one capuchin used a stick to poke the individual she was grooming.” But now, nose- and tooth-picking can both be added to that prestigious list. Why, however, is difficult to understand. The only other well-documented example of a primate picking its nose with a stick is from a male chimp in Tanzania with flu-like symptoms. Although Acácia sneezed and then rubbed her nose with both hands following the nasal prod, she didn’t otherwise seem ill.
It is therefore more likely that she simply had something stuck up her nose that she couldn't dislodge, the researchers suggest. And the same goes for picking her teeth, though they note that she was very particular about what twig she used for them, making sure it wasn't as bendy as the one that she used for her nose. Watch the video below of Acácia in action: