, Volume 58, Issue 3, pp 449–459 | Cite as

Observations of termitarium geophagy by Rylands’ bald-faced saki monkeys (Pithecia rylandsi) in Madre de Dios, Peru

  • Dara B. AdamsEmail author
  • Jennifer A. Rehg
  • Mrinalini Watsa
Original Article


Geophagy, or soil consumption, has been documented in diverse animal taxa, including many primates. Physiological functions such as mineral supplementation, detoxification of secondary compounds, and antacid properties are possible causes for this behavior. We report on observations of geophagy at arboreal termitaria by free-ranging Pithecia rylandsi at La Estación Biológica Los Amigos (EBLA) in Perú between 2008 and 2015. Characteristics of geophagy events, including saki monkey behavior at the termitaria, were recorded and geochemical analyses were conducted on consumed termitaria, nearby topsoils, and unvisited termitaria. We observed 76 feeding bouts at 26 different termitaria by two groups of P. rylandsi during 1125 observational hours (0.07 bouts/obs. h). Geophagy occurred throughout the year, but rates peaked in January during the rainy season. All age and sex classes visited both active and inactive mounds. Feeding bouts were brief (171 ± SD 154 s), and no differences were observed in time spent feeding at active or inactive termitaria. Analyses showed that consumed soils contained higher concentrations of phosphorous, potassium, calcium, and magnesium than did topsoil. Consumed soils also contained a higher total cation exchange capacity than topsoil. Our analysis of consumed versus control termitaria revealed no differences in their chemical composition. We discuss these results in the context of the two primary hypotheses proposed for geophagy in pitheciins: mineral supplementation and toxin adsorption. Our data are consistent with the interpretation that P. rylandsi consume soils from arboreal termitaria to aid in adsorption of toxins found in immature seeds, which are a year-round component of their diet.


Pithecia Geophagy Soil composition Feeding ecology Nutritional supplementation Tannin adsorption 



We thank the Asociación para la Conservación de la Cuenca Amazónica (ACCA) for granting us permission to conduct this research at EBLA. We are grateful to our long-term Peruvian assistant Marlon Guerra Vargas and our many volunteers for assistance in the field. We also thank Sue Palminteri and an anonymous reviewer for their invaluable comments and suggestions, which greatly helped us improve the manuscript. Research activities by M. Watsa and J. Rehg were supported respectively by Washington University in St. Louis, and Primate Conservation Inc. and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Data presented in this paper were collected during a long-term project conducted by the first author (DBA) on saki monkey behavior and ecology, which was supported by The National Science Foundation (BCS-1341174), Animal Behavior Society, The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, The Tinker Foundation, The Ohio State University, and Field Projects International.

Compliance with ethical standards

All applicable international, national, and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All research reported in this manuscript complied with reviews by Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUC) of Texas State University and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and followed protocols approved by The Ohio State University’s IACUC. All protocols adhered to Peruvian legal requirements and were authorized by Peru’s Ministry of Agriculture (MINAG).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Supplementary material

Supplementary material 1 (M4 V 17148 kb) Supporting Information: Saki monkeys feeding on an arboreal termitarium


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Copyright information

© Japan Monkey Centre and Springer Japan 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologySouthern Illinois University EdwardsvilleEdwardsvilleUSA
  3. 3.Department of AnthropologyWashington University in St. LouisSt. LouisUSA
  4. 4.Field Projects InternationalSt. LouisUSA

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