Preening time among wild animals


Picture of a rainbow lorikeet preening.

Powder and powder puffs!

Toothpicks and toothbrushes!

One would hardly think of associating these items with animal life.

In fact, the very idea of it might seem ridiculous to some people.

Nevertheless, students and observers of animal behavior have found that many of our marine, insect and animal neighbors are equipped with toiletries like these and use them regularly to clean and beautify themselves.

Hence, it is by these means that animals can follow a program of practical hygiene that helps them stay in good health.


Powdering themselves


Picture of a heron preening.

Among the beauty aids that some of our animal neighbors use to doll themselves up is some form of powder, in most cases, dust.

However, look on the vanity table in the boudoir of the heron, long-legged birds the diet of which consists chiefly of raw seafood.

Since such slimy fare soils his feathers, the heron needs to clean up right after eating.

He is equipped with two beauty aids to accomplish this.

On his breast he has a powder puff that is made up of short, brittle feathers that are coated with a waxy powder.

The claw of the middle toe of his foot is serrated.

Under a microscope it looks just like a comb.

After dinner, the heron dabs plenty of powder on his head and neck by simply dipping them into his powder puff on his breast.

This soaks up the slime.

Then, balancing himself on one foot, he uses the other to comb the powder off his feathers with his claw comb.

He next grooms his bill and then each wing in turn.

Stretching out a wing, he sweeps his foot underneath it and neatly arranges its feathers.

The bittern is another bird that dolls up in a similar manner, because his diet resembles that of the heron.

Picture of bittern bird.

However, his comb is even more efficient.

It has thirty-six well-formed teeth!

Pheasants and partridges  take dust baths regularly.

Picture of a pheasant bird.
Picture of a partridge bird.

Both have favorite spots or dust bathtubs.

Pheasants use a dusting place so often that it becomes filled with fine powdery dust.

When one settles into it and begins flicking the powdery dust into its feathers, the dust rises in clouds.

During dry weather partridges visit their dust tubs daily, be it on a road or some dry bare place at the foot of a bank.

Elephants relish taking dust baths too.

They prepare their dust bath by shuffling their huge feet back and forth.

When they have scraped up an adequate powder heap, they blow it over their backs.

Elephant sand bath.

They often do this when flies and heat bother them.

Mama Elephant is very particular about Junior’s toilet.

Despite his protests, she forces him into the water and thoroughly washes him down.

Then after his bath, she powders him all over with fine dust and finishes dolling him up with a trunk massage.


Keeping their teeth clean


Picture of bob cat.

Do you know how some animals keep their teeth clean?

The answer is found right in their mouths!

 Inside their lips and cheeks there are outgrowths that form natural toothbrushes.

Some mammals have these outgrowths on the side of their tongues also.

Every time the animal opens and closes his mouth these natural toothbrushes sweep up and down in a cleansing action.

The lemur has six lower front teeth that protrude straight out of his front jaw.

This is his comb, but how does he clean it when it gets clogged up with furry debris?

Picture of a lemur preening.

Well, the underside of the front part of his tongue has small horny projections.

By rapidly moving it back and forth over his teeth, he cleans them most effectively.

Mongooses use their sharp claws as toothpicks.

Picture of a mongoose.

Frank W. Lane in his book Nature Parade tells what a man said about his pet mongoose:

 “He was excessively clean, and after eating would pick his teeth with his claws in a most absurd manner.”

In the sea the parrot fish’s fused plate-like teeth are cared for and cleaned by small wrasses, spiny-finned fishes.

Picture of parrot fish teeth.

These fellows also clean the scales of other fishes.

They will even help the dreaded moray eel in his oral hygiene.

They enter his mouth and clean away parasites.

When this is going on the eel usually refrains from attacking his dentist.

The crocodile’s animated toothpicks come in the form of tickbirds and plovers.

When crocodiles sun themselves on a bank, they will prop their jaws wide open and let the plovers clean their teeth and mouth.

The sharp spurs on the plovers’ wings are said to keep the crocodiles aware of his toothpicks’ presence, lest he should close his jaws on them before their work is done.

Frank Lane reports that once there was an old crocodile that forgot and closed his jaws on the tickbirds that were cleaning up his teeth, crushing them to death.

The other birds seemed never to forget the old boy’s doing this, for they avoided him like the plague.


Beauty help from others


Monkey grooming.

Have you ever watched a monkey studiously picking through the hair of a fellow monkey?

Perhaps you thought he was picking fleas.

No, it is not fleas that he was after but the scaly pieces of skin, the salty taste of which delights him.

Not only that, but the one being dolled up in this manner evidently experiences a most pleasant sensation.

Cattle help each other doll up parts that are not easily accessible.

They will stand facing each other and proceed to lick each other’s head and neck.

Yes, they give each other a facial.

Canadian naturalist Dan McCowan reports witnessing a mule deer dolling up the furry coat of a varying hare.

The hare hopped up to the mule deer that was browsing at the edge of a forest and sat down in front of him.

At once the deer began licking the head, back and sides of the hare.

This went on for ten to twelve minutes.

McCowan found that others also saw deer dolling up hares in this fashion.

Evidently, the deer enjoys the salty substances in the hare’s fur and the petting action of the deer’s tongue simply delights the hare.

Yes, dolling up is a regular routine of animal life.

It is not only humans that do it.

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