Aug. 2 (UPI) -- New research suggests Madagascar's red-fronted lemurs chew on and rub toxic millipedes on their anus and buttocks to both treat and prevent parasite infections.
When an ape or monkey rubs objects or substances on their bodies, it's referred to as self-anointing. Scientists believe some species self-anoint to communicate and to remove toxins from a piece of food before digestion.
Other species, like the red-fronted lemur, appear to self-anoint as a way to self-medicate.
Biologists with the Leibniz Institute for Primate Research in Germany regularly observed self-anointing behavior among red-fronted lemurs. Before rubbing, lemurs were seen chewing on millipedes, which produced an orange-colored foam, a mixture of saliva and millipede secretions.
The lemurs applied the foam mixture to their genitals, anuses and tails.
"Self-anointment combined with eating millipede secretions may be a way of self-medication by red-fronted lemurs," researcher Louise Peckre said in a news release.
Millipedes secrete a chemical called benzoquinone, which has been shown to repel mosquitos. Scientists believe the toxin could also help prevent parasite infections. Lemurs regularly become infected with pinworms, which cause itching around their anus. Applying the chewed millipedes concoction as a salve could help sooth itching.
Researchers observed some lemurs swallowing some of the toxic millipedes after chewing. The foam could also help sooth stomach aches, they said.
Lemurs are one of many species of birds and mammals known to eat and rub millipedes on themselves. Chemicals found in millipede secretions can act as sedatives, repellents, irritants and toxins.
Scientists detailed their red-fronted lemur observations in the journal Primates.