This Lemur Poking His Nose Deserves His Own Horror Movie

One thing I didn’t expect to do this week was laugh out loud at a video of a lemur picking its nose. But here we are. Even if you’re gross, it’s worth sticking around to find out why scientists were so shocked by the lemur’s nose-picking prowess.

An aye-aye (a endangered lemur that lives in Madagascar) is the star of a new study published this week in the Journal of Zoology titled “A review of nose picking in primates with new evidence for its occurrence in Daubentonia madagascariensis.” Daubentonia madagascariensis is the scientific name for aye-ayes.

The research team said a video of a captive aye-aye named Kali at the Duke Lemur Center in North Carolina represents the first time an aye-aye has been recorded picking its nose and eat snot. Principal author of the study Anne-Claire Fabrea biologist from the University of Bern, captured the images, which you really have to see to believe.

Here’s the rundown: Kali thrusts her 3-inch-long (8 centimeters) third finger into her nasal cavity. The finger pretty much disappears before she pulls it out and cleans it with her mouth. Aye-ayes have six numbers on each hand.

Fabre described the “nose-picking” as “impressive” in a Statement from the Natural History Museum in the UK on Thursday.

Aye-ayes typically use this long middle finger to extract food from trees, but it seems to work very well for digging into the depths of its own head. Nose-picking evidence adds yes-yes to an exclusive list of about a dozen nose-picking primates, including humans, chimpanzees and gorillas.

Study co-author Roberto Portela Miguez was surprised by the initial video, but there was more to come. “We were in even greater surprise when we used the CT scan to see how nose picking works internally, and the scan was mind-blowing. We were shocked at the reconstruction that the aye-aye finger could reach through his nose almost to the back of his throat,” he said

Now that you’ve had time to process the video, check out this graph showing what the scanner revealed. The green extension represents the aye-aye finger.

This look inside an aye-aye’s head shows just how far his long middle finger can reach while picking his nose.

Anne-Claire Fabre/Renaud Boistel

There’s a nifty scientific vocabulary to go along with that. “Rhinotillexis” refers to the picking of the nose and “mucophagy” is the act of ingesting it. The team is interested in hearing from researchers to see if they have observed nose-picking activities in the wild, or if the aye-aye’s nasal scooping could be linked to captivity.

It’s more than a “wow, look at that crazy thing” moment. Researchers are studying not only which species pick their noses, but why they do it, a topic that hasn’t been studied much. The behavior is observed in animals with great dexterity, although it is possible that it is not limited to primates.

The “why” of all this is a bit more hazy. The article states that rhinotillexis “remains poorly understood and only a few scientific studies have attempted to elucidate the origin and potential relevance of this behavior.” Possible reasons could be to ease the discomfort of dried mucus or to gain some hydration from a quick bite.

The science team hopes its review of evidence for nose-snipping in primates will spark more research into the neglected topic and also draw attention to aye-ayes, which are threatened by habitat loss and hunting. The study also shows that deep scientific inspiration can come from unlikely places, like a snotty lemur.

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