Geophagy amongst rhesus macaques on Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico
- Cite this article as:
- Mahaney, W.C., Stambolic, A., Knezevich, M. et al. Primates (1995) 36: 323. doi:10.1007/BF02382856
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Soil mining and eating (geophagy) behavior of rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) on Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico, is described and assessed with respect to the chemical, geochemical, and mineralogical composition of the ingested materials. The samples forming the uneaten (control) and eaten (matrix and blocky) groups of soils come from the top and flanks of a marine terrace underlain with volcanic tuff on Cayo Santiago, off the east shore of Puerto Rico. Both the uneaten and geophagy samples were analyzed to determine particle size distributions, clay and primary mineralogy, and soil chemical and geochemical compositions. Primary minerals such as orthoclase and plagioclase feldspar in the clay fraction is higher in the control group than in the ingested samples. Both the control and matrix plus blocky samples have moderate to abundant amounts of kaolinite and halloysite (both silicon:aluminum = 1:1 type clay minerals) that may be important as a stimulus to geophagy behavior. The pH, total salts, and phosphorus levels in both the control and geophagy samples show considerable overlap with little clear indication of causal factors. Analysis of the geochemical data showed no clear cut elemental differences to suggest elemental supplementation as a possible explanation for mining and eating of tropical soil. It is possible that rhesus macaques ingest clay to obtain kaolinite/halloysite minerals which may alter the taste of their provided food, and may act as pharmaceutical agents to alleviate intestinal ailments such as diarrhea.