Lemur Latrine Trees Serve as Community Bulletin Boards
People have been leaving messages on bathroom walls for thousands of years. Just google “ancient Roman bathroom graffiti.” But we’re not the only ones to use latrines for information exchange—as two German researchers have confirmed after hundreds of hours watching lemurs pee and poop. For science.
Primatologists Iris Dröscher and Peter Kappeler concentrated on seven sets of pair-bonded members of a species called white-footed sportive lemurs, at a nature reserve in southern Madagascar. Their report is in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. [Iris Dröscher & Peter M. Kappeler Maintenance of familiarity and social bonding via communal latrine use in a solitary primate (Lepilemur leucopus)]
Many animals use the same spots repeatedly to do their business, primates in particular. For these lemurs, a specific tree becomes the urine and feces focal point. And because chemical compounds in their waste transmit information, the so-called latrine tree becomes like a bulletin board to post messages for the rest of the community.
Based on their 1,097 hours of observations, the researchers conclude that urine and glandular secretions left on the tree trunk are the primary message vehicles. Feces mostly just collects on the ground.
Some urine telegrams are probably signals from a particular lemur to the neighbors that he or she is around. But male lemurs upped their latrine visits when potential competitors for females came into their home area. So the frequent chemical messages left on the tree probably say in that case, “Buzz off, buddy, she’s with me.” In lemur.