Monkey gives itself a pedicure

Posted on July 25, 2011


There doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to fit everything in. Aside from work and study and visits to the gym to stay in shape, I’m talking about time to do basic grooming. Unlike men, there’s a lot more pressure for women of a certain age (sadly that’s me) to “maintain” their image, especially if you work in front of the camera. Some hairs have to coloured, other hairs have to be removed and then there’s your nails. I was recently told by a contact, Poker King: “Asha Tanna you’re a lovely looking woman, but my god your hands need some work!” And he’s right.

This weekend I was working flat out… much news: the killings in Oslo; Amy Winehouse dying and all kicking off at break-neck speed. There was absolutely no time before or after my shifts to get to a nail salon ahead of a friend’s wedding reception. So in true Tanna-style it was yet again a Destroy-It-Yourself  job. But a crude mani-pedi isn’t all that bad, even a monkey could do it.

New research published by scientists from Durham University shows a Mandrill captured on film, stripping a twig and using it as a tool to clean under its toenails. These are magnificent looking monkeys and the depth of colours differ depending on the sex. Males  have an orange/yellow beard and an unmistakable bright red-and-blue snout and rump. Females have a duller blue snout and  a buffy beard.


The findings have been published in the journal Behavioural Processes.

There are several species of Old World (from Africa and Asia) monkey that have been observed making crude tools – a behaviour which until recently was thought to be unique to man. Great Ape species like chimpanzees and orangutans first challenged this notion after observations found some apes modifying grasses into simple rods for extracting termites from mounds.

The evidence of Mandrills fashioning and using tools, was filmed during a study of stress-related behaviour at Chester Zoo, and suggests that smaller species of monkey may also be more intelligent than experts had realised.

Lead author of the study Dr Riccardo Pansini told the BBC: “The gap between monkeys and great apes is not as large as we thought it was in terms of tool use and modification.”

A captive Mandrill at Chester Zoo finds time to give itself a pedicure

Although Dr Pansini said he was excited to witness this deliberate tool modification, he said it was not entirely surprising.

He added: “Mandrills have been seen to clean their ears with modified tools in the wild. This was thought to help prevent ear infections and therefore might be an important behaviour in terms of hygiene.

“Animals have more time in captivity to carry out tasks that are not focused on looking for food or mating,” he said.

“So in zoos, you can occasionally pick up behaviours that are a little bit strange. In the wild this ‘pedicuring’ would be considered trivial.”

Dr Sonya Hill a research officer at Chester Zoo, added that research findings from zoos could have a “direct impact on evidence-based conservation and husbandry practices”.

“They can also contribute to a wider body of scientific knowledge, as this mandrill study has shown.”

A manicure may be “trivial” for monkeys in the wild, but in the urban jungle for this TV news primate, it’s crucial.