Popular girls have fewer lice … if you’re a monkey

Popular girls have fewer lice
© Julie Duboscq/Kyoto University

Is there something we can learn from this?

Once bedbugs emerged as the “it bugs” on the scene, lice became slightly less horrific on the spectrum of creepy parasitic insects that like to feed on our kids. But lice are still a drag. Tenacious as all get out, increasingly resistant to the things we try to kill them with, and easily spread, ridding one’s head of them is nothing short of a nightmare.

But for a number of primates, it’s not all bad. Why? Because lice are tasty! Or at least that’s the takeaway upon observing the typical behavior between animals of “groom, groom, groom, locate louse, eat, repeat.”

And now a new study shows that for Japanese macaques, the popular females have it the best. Those at the center of their social posse have fewer lice thanks to the extra grooming attention lavished upon them from their many friends.

"We thought that since grooming is one of the most common types of contact that occurs between macaques, this behavior should facilitate the transmission of lice," says lead author Julie Duboscq, who conducted the research at the University of Strasbourg. "At the same time, grooming might also constrain the spread of lice because louse eggs are removed during grooming, which reduces future generations of lice."

Duboscq and her team observed the macaques' grooming behaviors over 142 days to estimate the amount of lice each individual carried. They watched who was grooming whom and with what frequency. In the end, they concluded that central females have less lice.

Which got me to thinking, if only humans ate lice more often we wouldn’t have to struggle with all these pesky treatments! Edible insects are on the cusp of trendy acceptance, it’s a win-win! Right? (OK, I know, I’m shuddering as I write that, but still It’s nice to see that the monkeys have it figured out for now.)

And just for fun, 27 seconds of a popular female being attended to by a hungry chum:

Popular girls have fewer lice … if you’re a monkey
Is there something we can learn from this?

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