Human Evolution

, 2:557

First online:

Self-treatment of wounds by a capuchin monkey (Cebus apella)

  • G. WestergaardAffiliated withPsychology Department, University of Washington CDMRC, WJ-10
  • , D. FragaszyAffiliated withPsychology Department, University of Washington CDMRC, WJ-10

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A captive adult female capuchin monkey spontaneously manufactured and used tools to groom her vaginal area and four of her own wounds over a six-month period. The wounds apparently occurred during fights with other monkeys living in the same social groups. The monkey often groomed her vaginal area and wounds with tools she had coated with a sugar-based syrup. The monkey did not use tools to groom other body areas, nor did she use tools that were coated with substances other than syrup. This monkey’s unusual habit developed in the context of manufacturing and using tools in a feeding task. These observations demonstrate that the serendipitous performance of particular behaviours in appropriate contexts can lead to the discovery and practice of simple treatment of wounds by a monkey. The independent discovery of simple medicinal procedures in human cultures may have occurred in a similar manner. Such discoveries could have predated the development of sophisticated cultures in which medicinal practices were embedded and eventually recorded.

Key words

capuchin Cebus apella medicine monkey precultural self-grooming tool-manufacture tool-use