Why Do Monkeys Throw Poop?

Written by Janet F. Murray
Published: September 23, 2022
Image Credit Matthias Kabel / Creative Commons
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Have you ever seen primates throwing their excrement at someone and wondered, “Why do monkeys throw poop?” Of course, it’s no secret that monkeys are playful creatures. But one of the standard practices of monkeys in captivity or the wild may be surprising to some: throwing their poop. Monkeys throwing poop is a phenomenon that has long been a mystery to scientists. Why do they do it? What purpose does it serve? Finally, new research may have the answers to these questions. It may seem like strange behavior, but they have their reasons.

Poop Throwing Is a Form of Communication

Fresh monkey stool on a street
Throwing poop can be a form of communication in some monkey species like expressing aggression or asserting their status.

iStock.com/lamart1971

Scientists believe there are a few reasons monkeys throw poop. For one, it could be a form of communication. Monkeys use various vocalizations and expressions to communicate with each another, and poop-throwing could be another way of getting their point across.

In a recently published International Journal of Primatology study, researchers observed chimpanzees’ reactions to another chimp throwing its excrement. (Please note: Chimpanzees are not monkeys, they’re apes. Both apes and monkeys are primates.) They found that the target of poop throwing typically displays aggressive behavior, such as hitting or chasing the other chimp. This conduct suggests that throwing poop is a way of communicating hostility.

The researchers note that this behavior is most commonly seen in males, suggesting that it could be related to competition for status or territory. For example, poop-throwing may be an effective way for males to intimidate their rivals and assert dominance. In addition, monkeys live in hierarchical societies in the wild where there is a strict pecking order. So, they assert their place in the hierarchy by flinging their feces at those lower on the totem pole.

This fascinating new research provides some insight into one of nature’s little mysteries. It will be interesting to see if future studies can shed further light on why monkeys throw their excrement! So next time you observe a monkey flinging its feces, don’t be too quick to judge. There could be more to it than is first apparent.

Poop Throwing Monkeys in the Wild and Captivity

A pair of monkeys in a zoo
Monkeys in captivity exhibit poop-throwing tendencies more than wild ones.

Evikka/Shutterstock.com

There is no conclusive reply to this question. However, some reports of poop-throwing behavior are seen more often in monkeys in captivity than in the wild. This activity could be due to a blend of elements, including the increased stress that monkeys may experience in captivity and the fact that they are often fed a diet high in sugar and other unhealthy foods.

Additionally, poop-throwing behavior may be more likely in monkeys in small cages, as this can further increase their stress levels. There are various reasons why poop-throwing behavior might be seen more often in monkeys in captivity than in the wild. For one, captive monkeys may not have as many opportunities to express their natural behaviors since they are confined to smaller spaces. And have less access to materials they can use for play or enrichment. Additionally, captive monkeys may be more likely to experience boredom or other negative emotions. This situation leads to them engaging in self-destructive or harmful behaviors like throwing poop. Finally, poop-throwing behavior may also be a way for captive monkeys to get attention from their caretakers.

While there are many reports of wild monkeys throwing poop, it is unclear how typical this behavior is. Experts think it is less common in wild monkeys. However, howler monkeys do engage in this behavior and, in their case, it is usually in self-defense. So while this conduct may be seen as gross to humans, it is perfectly normal in the monkey kingdom.

Why Chimps Are Well Know for Their Poop-Slinging Ways

If you have heard about the poop-slinging monkey, the chances are it’s the chimpanzee that comes to mind. And with just cause, as these apes are well known for poop throwing. However, this behavior is slightly more complex than what initially meets the eye.

Chimpanzees in the wild occasionally throw poop as part of their normal behavior. However, this conduct is standard in captive chimpanzees, who may have fewer resources to throw. Captive chimps have a reputation for throwing objects like sticks, branches, and stones, so when they do not have access to them, they may turn to throwing poop instead.

Poop throwing can also be a form of communication for chimpanzees. For example, a chimp may throw poop at another to show dominance or aggression. Or they might throw poop to signal that it is time to move to a new location.

So why do captive chimpanzees throw poop more often than wild chimpanzees? There are a few possible explanations.

Aggressive Animal: Chimpanzee
Chimpanzees, which are apes, not monkeys, are well known for throwing their excrement.

Afandi Teguh Afriyanto/Shutterstock.com

Boredom

One possibility is that captive chimpanzees are more likely to suffer boredom than wild chimpanzees. Chimps are highly intelligent and need plenty of mental and physical stimulation. With less to do in captivity and fewer resources to play with, captive chimpanzees can turn to poop throwing as a way to entertain themselves.

Stress Causes Poop Throwing Conduct

Another possibility is that captive chimpanzees suffer more stress than wild chimpanzees. In the wild, chimpanzees have more space to roam, far away from potential human predators. This absence of people can lead to less stress and fewer reasons to throw excrement around.

Positive and Negative Attention

Finally, it is also possible that captive chimpanzees have learned that throwing poop gets attention from humans. This attention may be positive, such as a reward for food, or unfavorable, such as their keepers scolding them. Either way, the chimp may learn that throwing poop is a way to get a reaction from humans.

Whatever the reason, poop throwing is a normal part of chimpanzee behavior. So, don’t be astonished if you see a chimp throwing poop. It’s just doing what comes naturally.

Up Next – Chimp Topics

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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with more than eight years of content creation experience. My content writing covers diverse genres, and I have a business degree. I am also the proud author of my memoir, My Sub-Lyme Life. This work details the effects of living with undiagnosed infections like rickettsia (like Lyme). By sharing this story, I wish to give others hope and courage in overcoming their life challenges. In my downtime, I value spending time with friends and family.

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Sources
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  4. Mental Floss, Available here: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/595305/why-chimpanzees-throw-poop
  5. Royal Society Publishing, Available here: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rstb.2011.0195