Some scientists have all the luck—research in beautiful locations with exciting results. And then there are Iris Dröscher and Peter Kappeler from the German Primate Center. While they study white-footed sportive lemurs (Lepilemur leucopus)—and all lemurs are super-cute—in southern Madagascar, the work is well, a little gross. The two researchers spent over 1,000 hours watching the toilet habits of 14 radio-collared adult sportive lemurs.
Why, you (and their parents) may ask? These lemurs are nocturnal and loners, and they all generally use the same tree to go to the bathroom. So the research team had a hunch that the primates left messages for each other through their pee and poop. (Not a pretty mental image, I know, just look at some of these cute lemur pictures instead.)
And in their paper, published last week in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, the two confirmed their suspicions. They discovered that the urine left on these trees serves as a method to maintain contact with family members. The urine also serves to inform an intruder that there is a male that will defend his partner.
“Scent marks transmit a variety of information such as sexual and individual identity and may function to signal an individual’s presence and identity to others,” says Dröscher. “Latrines therefore serve as information exchange centers of individual-specific information.”
So bathrooms are social networks for lemurs—that is a pretty exciting result.
Image: Bernard DUPONT/Flickr