Durophagy among white-eyelid mangabeys

White-eyelid mangabeys are known for their durophagous diet, which means they rely a lot on very hard foods. Their teeth are adapted for this type of diet and they have, for example, some of the thickest dental enamel of all extant primates, as well as enlarged incisors and special formed premolars molars. Sooty mangabeys (Cercocebus atys) at Taï in Ivory Coast are known to eat a lot of seeds of a tree called Sacoglottis gabonensis. Often the group can be heard from a distance when cracking open these hard seeds. The mangabeys crush the seeds with their postcanine teeth, while chimpanzees use tools to access them. Red-capped mangabeys (Cercocebus torquatus) at Sette Cama in Gabon also rely on Sacoglottis seeds, but their diet includes a more unusual food too. Red-capped mangabeys at this site use their canine teeth to open the shell of crabs (Cardisoma armatum) which they find near the coast. The video below illustrates durophagy among agile mangabeys (Cercocebus agilis) at Bai Hokou in the Central African Republic. In February-March 2010 this group frequently visited a patch in the forest where a lot of Strychnos trees bore large fruits with a hard outer layer. Using their incisor teeth, the mangabeys gnaw through this tough layer to get to the nutritious pulp inside. This group of, at that time, 135 individuals was normally constantly moving, but could stay for several hours at this patch. It is a special moment when more than one hundred mangabeys are gnawing around you!


This photo shows the skull of an agile mangabey (Cercocebus agilis) at the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium. Note the enlarged incisor teeth. White-eyelid mangabeys use different teeth to manipulate different hard-object foods.

Written by Lieven Devreese on November 21, 2013.

Key references:
Cooke C. (2012). The feeding, ranging, and positional behaviors of Cercocebus torquatus, the red-capped mangabey, in Sette Cama Gabon: a phylogenetic perspective. Ph.D. Thesis, Ohio State University.

Daegling D.J., McGraw W.S., Ungar P.S., Pampush J.D. & Vick A.E. (2011). Hard-object feeding in sooty mangabeys (Cercocebus atys) and interpretation of early hominin feeding ecology. PLoS ONE 6: e23095.

Devreese L. (2011). Many hands make light work. Foraging strategy of agile mangabeys (Cercocebus agilis) exhibiting a permanent large grouping pattern at Bai Hokou, Central African Republic. Master thesis, University of Antwerp, Belgium.

Devreese L., Huynen M.C., Stevens J.M.G. & Todd A. (2013). Group size of a permanent large group of agile mangabeys (Cercocebus agilis) at Bai Hokou, Central African Republic. Folia Primatol 84: 67-73.

McGraw W.S., Vick A.E. & Daegling D.J. (2011). Sex and age differences in the diet and ingestive behaviors of sooty mangabeys (Cercocebus atys) in the Taï Forest, Ivory Coast. Am J Phys Anthropol 144: 140-153.

McGraw W.S., Pampush J.D. & Daegling D.J. (2012). Brief Communication: Enamel thickness

in mangabeys revisited. Am J Phys Anthropol 147: 326-333.

Shah N. (2003). Foraging strategies in two sympatric mangabey species (Cercocebus agilis and Lophocebus albigena). Ph.D. Thesis, State University of New York, Stony Brook.

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This website is dedicated to the genus Cercocebus. Although white-eyelid mangabeys are known to science since the end of the 18th century (Kerr, 1792), they remain poorly understood because of the challenges associated with studying them in the wild. Cercocebus.be aims to bring information on the taxonomy, distribution, ecology and behaviour of these mysterious primates to you, scientist, naturalist or enthusiast.