A monkey in Japan flosses its teeth with its hair, demonstrating that humans aren’t the only animals that clean their teeth and invent tools to help with the task.
The flosser, a free-ranging, middle-aged, female Japanese macaque named Chonpe, may have come up with the tool and the idea, according to a new study that will appear in the January issue of Primates.
Lead author Jean-Baptiste Leca told Discovery News that dental flossing could have been a fortuitous yet “accidental byproduct of grooming.”
Leca, a post-doctoral fellow at Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute, explained that “Japanese macaques sometimes bite into hair or pull it through their mouths to remove external parasites.”
The hair might have become stuck in Chonpe’s teeth, and as she drew the hairs out, “she may have noticed the presence of food remains attached to them.”
“The immediate reward of licking the food remains off the hair may have encouraged her to repeat the behavior for the same effect in the future,” he added.
Leca and colleagues Noelle Gunst and Michael Huffman noticed Chonpe’s flossing while studying a population of Japanese macaques living at the Iwatayama Monkey Park in a mountainous region at the outskirts of Kyoto, Japan. Although the monkeys at the park are free to roam, he said they are provisioned with food several times a day and may therefore have more “free time on their hands.”
Chonpe apparently used her time wisely, as she devised three different ways of flossing, Leca said.