, Volume 59, Issue 5, pp 483–494 | Cite as

Potential self-medication using millipede secretions in red-fronted lemurs: combining anointment and ingestion for a joint action against gastrointestinal parasites?

  • Louise R. PeckreEmail author
  • Charlotte Defolie
  • Peter M. Kappeler
  • Claudia Fichtel
Original Article


Self-anointing, referring to the behaviour of rubbing a material object or foreign substance over different parts of the body, has been observed in several vertebrate species, including primates. Several functions, such as detoxifying a rich food source, social communication and protection against ectoparasites, have been proposed to explain this behaviour. Here, we report observations of six wild red-fronted lemurs (Eulemur rufifrons) of both sexes and different age classes anointing their perianal-genital areas and tails with chewed millipedes. Several individuals also ingested millipedes after prolonged chewing. In light of the features of the observed interactions with millipedes, and the nature and potential metabolic pathways of the released chemicals, we suggest a potential self-medicative function. Specifically, we propose that anointing combined with the ingestion of millipedes’ benzoquinone secretions by red-fronted lemurs may act in a complementary fashion against gastrointestinal parasite infections, and more specifically Oxyuridae nematodes, providing both prophylactic and therapeutic effects.


Fur-rubbing Benzoquinones Diplopods Nematodes Oxyuridae 



We thank the Malagasy Ministère de l’Environnement et des Eaux et Forêts, the Département de Biologie Animale of Antananarivo University, and the Centre National de Formation, d’Etudes et de Recherche en Environnement et Foresterie for supporting and authorising our long-term research in Kirindy. We are most grateful to the local team of the Kirindy field station, particularly to Jean-Pierre Tolojanahary, Remi and Brunot Tsiverimana for sample collection. We are very grateful to Daniel González Acosta, a PhD student in biochemistry, for his precious guidance, review and literature recommendations on the biochemical aspects of this work, and his contribution to the conception of Fig. 3. We also acknowledge Dr. Thomas Wesener, Curator, Head of Section Myriapoda at the Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig Leibniz Institute for Animal Biodiversity (Bonn, Germany) for the picture-based millipede identification, and Dr. Bobby Schopler, Supervising Veterinarian at the Duke Lemur Center (Durham, USA), and Dr. Tamara Becker, Veterinarian at the Deutsches Primatenzentrum (Göttingen, Germany), for providing information on the “sit spots”. We are also thankful to Finaritra Tolotra Randimbiarison (University of Antananarivo, Madagascar) and Dr. Matthias Markolf (Dept. Sociobiology/Anthropology, University of Göttingen, Germany) for sharing their observations. We warmly acknowledge Dr. Michael A. Huffman, Dr. Júlio César Bicca-Marques and an anonymous reviewer for their constructive comments on earlier versions of the paper. We are also thankful to Lluís Socías Martinez for his relevant comments. This study was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG FI 929/21-1), (DFG FI 929/7-1), (DFG KR 3834/5-1) and the DFG research group, Sociality and health in primates (FOR2163). Field work was conducted by the German Primate Center in Kirindy with the authorization of the Commission Tripartite de la Direction des Eaux et Forêts. All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

Supplementary material

Supplementary material 1 (MP4 113104 kb)


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Copyright information

© Japan Monkey Centre and Springer Japan KK, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology UnitGerman Primate Center, Leibniz Institute for Primate ResearchGöttingenGermany
  2. 2.Department of Sociobiology/AnthropologyUniversity of GöttingenGöttingenGermany

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