Doll-up Time Among the Animals
COMBS and hairbrushes! 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.
Our animal neighbors did not invent this idea of dolling up. No, Almighty God, their Creator, is the one who equipped them with these beauty tools. And he is the one who gave them the instinct to use these toiletries for their intended purposes. Hence, it is by these means that animals can follow a program of practical hygiene that helps them stay in good health.
Their Combs and Brushes
Consider the toiletries of the lowly ants. These tiny insects have combs, brushes, soaps and pomade that they use frequently and with great vigor. In fact, ants have fine-tooth combs and coarse-tooth combs just as humans do. These combs are attached to the fourth joint of their legs.
R. Dixon and B. Eddy in their book Personality of Insects quote Dr. McCook, who studied ants for many years, as saying: “This (the tibial comb) is a real comb which might have served the inventor of our own combs for a model, its chief difference being that it is permanently attached to the limb that operates it. It has a short handle, a stiff back, and a regularly toothed edge.” The teeth are “pointed at the free end and enlarged at the base, are stiff but elastic, and spring back when bent as do the teeth of a comb.”
The brushes of the ants are ingeniously practical devices. They are made up of soft hollow hairs through which a lubricant or pomade is secreted. This lubricant causes grains of dirt and dust to stick together, thereby making it easy to remove them.
Doll-up time for the ants is usually in the morning when they awaken. It is then that they are seen combing and brushing themselves vigorously. Of course, being the fastidious insects that they are, ants also doll up whenever they feel the need to do so. Interestingly, ants help comb, brush and wash one another, cleaning parts of the bodies of other ants that they cannot reach by themselves. Yes, they even practice massage.
Another creature equipped with toiletries is the beaver. He has a built-in comb and hairdressing supply. The nail of his second toe on each hind foot is split, and the toe itself, being jointed, can bend in any direction. So with this comb the beaver will sit on his tail, which seems to help his oil glands discharge the hairdressing needed, and doll up his furry coat.
Among the winged creatures, free-tailed bats have most effective hairbrushes. On the outer toes of their feet there are fringes of little bristles that stick out. Just short of their tips, these bristles are bent at a right angle. Thus whichever way Mr. Bat moves his feet he is able to dig right down to the roots of his hair. And he takes plenty of time dolling up. He will repeatedly use both of his hairbrushes in an alternating fashion. When he is finished the hair on his back will be neatly parted in the middle.
The brushes of the prawn, a shrimplike sea creature, have bristles that stand up like those of a bottle cleaner. They are located on his front nippers, and he vigorously applies these brushes to every part of his body, even to a surprising distance under his shell. When his brushes get dirty, he simply cleans them by running them through his jaws.
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. However, his comb is even more efficient. It has thirty-six well-formed teeth!
Pheasants and partridges take dust baths regularly. 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. 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
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? 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. 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. 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
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.