A very common occurrence, an assembly line of monkeys grooming each other, but have you ever wondered why do monkeys groom each other?
Social grooming is a behavior that not only monkeys and other animals participate in but also humans. Social grooming is the behavior of cleaning or maintaining another’s body appearance as shown in the photograph of monkeys above. Humans may not necessarily start picking at someone else’s arm pit hair, but by helping fix a hair style, or smooth a dress, or even paining someones nails, all by definition fall into the social grooming category. Just like humans, monkeys also have to maintain a social status and grooming each other is one way of doing so. Primates grooming each other is known to have major social significance and function. It allows primates to form “bonds” or “friendships”.
As observed in the photograph above, grooming can also be done as a way of showing social status in a hierarchy. Typically, the grooming process shows which primate is loyal to the one higher in status. In male baboons, grooming is done at tolerated intervals. The longer the baboon is groomed by another the greater the bond. In many animals other than primates, grooming is also used in exchange for favors. This would be similar to human concepts of “if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”. Studies have shown that baboons are likely to share food with another that just recently groomed them.
Primates use social grooming for hygienic purposes as well. Picking bugs, foreign materials, and dirt from each others fur helps keep their coats fluffy and free from getting matted. Studies have also shown that by keeping a monkeys fur “fluffed” helps keep their overall body temperature stable and warmer. This is becoming essential to their survival as climate change is impacting many of the species natural habitats.
Monkeys groom for many reasons. Each species has specific established meanings. With Ollie not having another monkey here to groom him, he relies on Luke and I to do so. He will lay down and lift his arm or leg for us to gently pick through his fur. This is one of the only times Ollie will sit still. In many of our videos on YouTube, you can also see Ollie will groom me by picking though my hair. As for Luke, sadly his armpit hairs are always at risk when Ollie’s around. I do find it slightly comical but it is Ollie’s way of showing his bond with us. Be sure to also read Why Do Monkeys Bite.