Thursday, March 12, 2009

Macaques teach their babies how to floss

PLoS ONE, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Where else can you read about research as diverse as the discovery of self-medicating behaviour in caterpillars and the differences in brain activity when telling apart reality from fiction (I'm going to read that one properly and write it up on the serious blog, which has not been updated in ages.) What is more, PLoS articles are FREE - to anyone with an internet connection - no matter whether you're in a university or a web cafe, whether you're in Cambridge or Cairo. Hurray for open access.

And hurray for good dental hygiene. A collaboration between researchers at Kyoto and Ubon Rajathanee Universities studied monkeys that live around the Buddhist shrine of Prang Sam Yot in Thailand. They found that the macaques had learnt to use human hair as dental floss. Not only that, monkey-mothers repeated the "flossing gestures" significantly more often when observed by their monkey-babies than when not.

The length of the flossing episode didn't vary between the infant present/not present conditions. The authors therefore argue that the change in behaviour doesn't result from the mother being distracted by the presence of her infant. Rather the increased repetition of the flossing gestures (reinserting the hair and repeatedly "snapping" the teeth) is intended to demonstrate how flossing is done.

Doesn't it make you proud to be a primate?

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