Self-anointing behavior in free-ranging spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi) in Mexico

Primates. 2007 Apr;48(2):160-3. doi: 10.1007/s10329-006-0019-9. Epub 2006 Nov 14.


During 250 h of observation, a total of 20 episodes of self-anointing, that is, the application of scent-bearing material onto the body, were recorded in a group of free-ranging Mexican spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi). The animals used the leaves of three species of plants (Brongniartia alamosana, Fabaceae; Cecropia obtusifolia, Cecropiaceae; and Apium graveolens, Umbelliferae) two of which have not been reported so far in this context in any New World primate species. The findings that only two males displayed self-anointing, that only the sternal and axillary regions of the body were rubbed with the mix of saliva and plant material, and a lack of correlation between the occurrence of self-anointing and time of day, season of the year, ambient temperature or humidity do not fit the hypothesis that this behavior functions in repelling insects and/or mitigating topical skin infections in this species. Rather, the data and the observation that the leaves of all three plant species spread an intensive and aromatic odor when crushed, support the hypothesis that self-anointing in A. geoffroyi may play a role in the context of social communication, possibly for signaling of social status or to increase sexual attractiveness.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Atelinae / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Mexico
  • Observation
  • Odorants*
  • Plant Leaves / chemistry*