Do monkeys eat bananas upside down?

By Grant Jacobs 29/12/2009

A light-weight post to get this blog back on the road after the Christmas break…

There’s a video doing the rounds (again, it’s not a new theme) that the “right” way to peel a banana is from the tip of the fruit, not using the stem, and that this is how monkeys peel bananas:

Apparently cyclists favour this method as it’s easier to do one-handed when on the road.

bananasNot only do many of us peel bananas “wrongly”, but many of us also get them upside down. The “top” of a banana–where the stem is–is actually the bottom and the bottom the top: bananas in bunches grow upwards from a stem running the length of the bunch. (Photo from: Orizarska’s travelogue)

Naturally, the video above has sparked a series of copy-cat and reply videos with their own twists.

Told he was being a sissy for opening it by pinching the end, this guy shows you can simply break them in half… There’s how to open an banana like a blonde: pulverise it with a mallet. Tampa zoo (Florida) put up a response using their local expert, a gorilla. An Israeli insists it’s cooler to grab the stem and flick the banana open. (Well, OK, but do you ever flick the fruit onto the floor?)

It’s intuitive that how we eat food might be an example of something that is learnt, passed on from one generation to the next, so what we (or monkeys) do might be a taught thing, rather than necessarily the best way.

All this is fun, but I’d like to use it to illustrate a point. So far this is anecdotal stuff, “somebody says” stuff.

A scientist, or any half-way decent skeptic, might ask:

Is there really a best way to open a banana? (Here’s a project for those aiming the the glory of the IgNobel Prizes? I’ve given some examples in an earlier post.)

Do monkeys really open bananas this way? So far we’ve got a claim, with no evidence…

Is this really about monkeys, or should we be talking about apes?

If it’s better and monkeys do it this way, why do we do it differently?

monkeyThat some species have a preference for eating it one way might be it be related to other things like, say, size and strength of fingers: is “best” different for different species? There are some pretty small monkeys out there, like the pygmy marmosets I wrote about for their unusual genetic trick of being able to pass on their brother’s genes, perhaps smaller animals find a different approach better for them?

What if the animals eat them straight from the bunch? (In which case, they’re going to have to use the exposed end, the tip away from the stem.) Perhaps peeling from the tip started from eating the fruit from the bunch, with the habit carried over to single fruit when they are found?

There’s plenty of anecdotal statements to the effect that monkeys eat bananas by first splitting the tip, for example in this excellent (kid’s) book, but where are the evidenced studies…? (Perhaps it’s been so well-known for so long, that there are no formal studies?)

Finally, for the (wannabe) chefs amongst us, this trick might be useful for preparing meals: you can naturally split the fruit into three pieces:

Banana split anyone?

Older entertainment or fun posts in Code for life:

TIME’s top ten scientific discoveries for 2009

Explore ancient science books on-line

Science talks: 100 of the best

Neti pots now validated as sound science?

Royal science

Snake coughs up new species

Craziest research paper titles, awards and authors

Visual illusions, change blindness and autism

Monkey business, or is my uncle also my Dad?

0 Responses to “Do monkeys eat bananas upside down?”