Monday, 22 September 2008

Apes may be using perfume, says study

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Munich: Move over Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana and other purveyors of glamour perfumes. The next rage in fragrance may be Eau de Monkey.

Scientists have been reporting sightings of wild spider monkeys rubbing themselves with chewed-up leaves that may function as 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 journal Primates.

Matthias Laska of University of Munich Medical School, Germany, described watching a group of 10 black-handed spider monkeys. Working in Mexico, Laska’s team recorded “20 episodes of self anointing — the application of scent-bearing material onto the body,” 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 odour when crushed.” To show that the mishmash indeed functions as a sort of cologne, researchers would have to demonstrate 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. However, a small but growing number of researchers in recent years have argued that some animals may anoint themselves with scents for social purposes.

Laska’s team found, in accord with a past study, that the 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.

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