All images used with the permission of their photographers
Most people are aware that animals groom themselves, and monkeys, as well as other primates, are particularly well known for grooming each another – an activity known as social grooming or allo-grooming. Yet what to make of those monkeys that groom totally different species? We’ve got a wonderful collection of images and videos showing this unusual – and pretty cute – behavior.
In this clip, a couple of cheeky monkeys are grooming a deer whilst sat at the top of the holy mountain, Mt Misen, in Japan. It certainly looks a tranquil situation!
While some might see social grooming as altruistic behavior – one creature is cleaning another – most agree that the interaction is more of a mutual exchange, as the groomer gets something from it too. Among animals of the same species, allo-grooming is seen to strengthen kinship bonds and other social relationships, so what benefit might the monkeys be deriving from it here? After all, they’re clearly not related to the deer – and if they think they are, they’re clearly suffering from a pretty strange identity crisis!
There are various ways monkeys may be getting something out of the grooming services they sometimes provide for other animals. First, and simplest, they could well be getting a tasty snack. Dead skin, insects and parasites may sound yucky to us, but they’ve got nutritional value, and most animals don’t want them in their fur – just ask this cat!
Yes, if this cat (filmed in Luang Prabang in Laos) has fleas and other creepy-crawlies in its fur, the monkey can enjoy the fruits of its labor – and definitely seems to be doing so here (while listening to a funky tune!). Of course, there’s every possibility that Ling the monkey and fatty the cat are acquainted, and so, who knows, maybe they’re reinforcing their interspecies social bond.
This photo, taken in Rajasthan, India, shows an unusual situation, as there’s a whole troupe of monkeys grooming the prostrate pig. Raymond Ho, a primatology expert who runs the Prancing Papio blog, told us: "We need to see the bigger picture here. The dynamic of the monkey-pig would be different if said monkey has a strong bond with the pig. Maybe there’s something the monkey wants from the pig?"
These cats in Cambodia are in kitty heaven having a monkey grooming them. As any cat owner knows, cats show that they’re relaxed and happy in a situation by purring – and we’d be willing to wager that this sound is encouraging the monkey here!
Another dog being groomed – this one either sleeping or too relaxed to care. One interesting thing that’s been discovered is that grooming others lowers tension and stress in monkeys. Even when there seems to be nothing tangible that it can get out of the situation – like here – a monkey stressed out by being in captivity and the presence of people may find grooming any species helps it to feel better.
monkey grooming goat
"An[other] example of mutual symbiosis between a primate and a non-primate," says Raymond Ho of this image of a macaque monkey grooming a goat in Andhra Pradesh, India. According to the photographer, the macaque casually approached the goat and started picking and eating its ticks and fleas, while the goat continued its siesta!
In this next case of interspecies social grooming, one theory that might spring to mind as to what the macaque monkey is getting out of the situation is this: while the deer gets those pesky little bugs dealt with and is kept clean, the macaque gets a free lookout for predators. The video up next shows more.
Since deer will run at the sight or smell of a predator, by staying close and grooming the deer, the macaque may hope to get advance notice of a nearby danger. When you learn that this video was shot in Cabarceno Natural Park in Spain, the idea of predators being a threat to the monkey begins to sound a little farfetched. But even so, what looks like a wildlife park to us may feel more like the wild to the animals inside, especially if they don’t know any different.
"As for the gibbon grooming a tapir,” Raymond Ho commented on this interesting interaction in the Bronx Zoo. “It is probably a learned and novel behavior. Although in the wild, their habitats do overlap, they both live in different layers of the rain forest. Also, gibbons are active during the day and tapirs are nocturnal. So, in a sense, the gibbon in the zoo might be stressed and is grooming to release tension."
Whether it’s to release tension because they are in a captive situation or simply to get a snack, it seems monkeys are far more willing to groom other species than we may have thought. Whatever the nuances may be, both social needs and hygiene needs are met – and it looks pretty cute to us too!