New monkey puzzles scientists: why does it sneeze in the rain?
A new species of monkey has been found in northern Myanmar, puzzling scientists because of a snub nose that means they are often heard “sneezing in the rain”.
Why would anyone want — let alone evolve — nostrils that fill up with water?
The find of the new type of snub-nosed monkey (story here) coincides with a U.N. meeting in Nagoya, Japan, this week to decide what to do about accelerating losses of species of animals and plants because of human threats, such as loss of habitats to farms or cities or the effects of climate change.
The monkey’s habitat is threatened by logging and a planned Chinese-built hydroelectric dam — conservationists hope it will put pressure on Beijing to protect the rare monkey from an influx of workers. Trees also bind soil together — logging can cause erosion that could silt up the reservoir behind the dam. That means a big economic incentive to protect the monkey’s habitat.
Researchers are mystified by the nostrils.
Local hunters report the monkeys can be located by their sneezing when it’s raining. The monkeys often resort to sitting out downpours in trees face down.
Thomas Geissmann, who is the lead author of the study, says no one knows why they have evolved such noses. Sneezing is an evolutionary dead end if it makes you likely to get caught and eaten.
Among theories: other monkeys love snub noses, making them a big plus to attract a mate. A snub-nosed soulmate can presumably forgive a few sniffles.
(Images: top Photoshop reconstruction of the snub-nosed monkey by Thomas Geissmann — N.B. there are no known photographs of the monkey: the researchers based their findings on a carcass and four skulls. Right: Image by Martin Aveling, Fauna & Flora International)