Monday, 3 July 2017

Peruvian monkey avoids stomach trouble by adding mud to its diet



26 June 2017

By Adrian Barnett

Are there merits to munching mud? Some monkeys seem to go out of their way to add it to their standard diet of leaves, fruits and insects. In Amazonian Peru, at least, one primate species seems to use mud medicinally, possibly to prevent stomach upsets before they even begin.

Why some monkeys eat mud has been much debated, with the main options being to kill parasites, as a mineral supplement or to cure stomach upsets.

“Many previous reports involved just a few sightings, or come from accidental encounters,” explains Dara Adams at the Ohio State University in Columbus, who led the study. “We were really focused on answering this question, and that seems to have made the difference.”

The team studied Rylands’ bald-faced saki monkey (Pithecia rylandsi), a rainforest canopy specialist. With thick grey fur, it has a similar shaggy appearance and size to a Maine Coon cat. The sakis’ treetop lifestyle means they did not get their mud from the ground, but from the nest casings of tree-living termites.

“In 1125 hours, we recorded 76 feeding bouts at 26 termite mounds,” says team member Jennifer Rehg, from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. “They ate mound casing – they weren’t focusing on the termites. They even ate inactive mounds.”

Muddy goodness
But why termite mounds? Enter Mrinalini Watsa from Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, who conducted a detailed analysis of the mud the sakis were eating.

“The important thing is that this isn’t just any mud, it’s termite-processed mud,” she explains. “Compared to topsoil, it has a higher carbon and clay content.”


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