Do Animals Blow Their Noses?

They might not reach for a hanky, but some animals—including primates and dogs—have their own devices for clearing nasal passages.

Why does a gorilla have such big nostrils? Well, have you seen the size of those fingers?

That’s the perfect joke for this Saturday’s Weird Animal Question of the Week, which comes from National Geographic's own Deputy Research Director Brad Scriber. He asked: “Do any other animals blow their noses?” (Related: "How Do Elephants and Other Animals Sneeze?")

They don’t use tissues, but some animals do clear their noses on purpose—as opposed to waiting for a sneeze.

‘Snot That Bad

“We see the apes blow their noses all the time"—either one nostril at a time or both simultaneously, Tracy Fenn, supervisor of mammals at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in Florida, says via email.

Often gorillas opt to just use their fingers and taste test the results, she says—just as in the opening joke she passed along to us.

Genteel bonobos have have a special method of helping babies breathe better. (Also see "Bonobo 'Baby Talk' Reveals Roots of Human Language.")

“I’ve seen mother bonobos using their mouths to suck the snot out of a congested infant’s nose,” Fenn says.

Because moms.

"Drip and Lick"

Many hooved animals have forward- or upward-facing nostrils, and can just blow outward to clear their nasal passages. If there is anything to clean up, animals such as giraffes can just use their long tongues, says Fenn.

Don’t judge: Your dog might be doing the same thing.

Dogs with chronic nasal discharge, for instance, tend to adopt a casual "drip and lick" approach rather than deliberate attempts to blow, says Mark Rondeau, staff veterinarian in internal medicine at Penn Vet's Ryan Hospital.

Blowhole Not For Blowing Noses

A whale or dolphin’s blowhole might seem like a nose-blowing apparatus, but it's not really, Quincy A. Gibson, a biologist at the University of North Florida, says via email.

The blast we see when these animals breathe through their blowholes is air, water, and mucus. While dolphins will sometimes intentionally exhale forcefully that way, it’s more a cough than a nose blow. (Also see "5 Animals With Weird Noses.")

Researchers call this “chuffing,” Gibson says, "and is often interpreted as a sign of aggression.

“Seals and sea lions definitely sneeze, blow their noses and often 'hock loogies,'” Julie P. Avery, also a biologist at the University of North Florida says by email. Loogies, which are made up of lung fluids, can go “quite a distance," she adds.

Picky Girl

People sometimes stick things up their noses to relieve congestion, like nasal sprays or Neti pots. Some animals employ tools to help out with their congestion.

Scientists have observed two chimpanzees in Tanzania using nasal probes, such as sticks—including one male who used them to trigger sneezes and clear his nose.  

Acácia, a female wild bearded capuchin monkey at Brazil's Serra da Capivara National Park, was captured on video using blades of grass and sticks as a nasal probe, then examining and licking her findings. She also used sticks as toothpicks. (Also see "Nut-Bashing Monkeys Offer Window Into Human Evolution.")

It's the first time a female capuchin has been observed using a sticks as tools; males often use them to forage for food or to threaten other animals, according to a paper published recently in the journal Primates.

That makes Acácia our pick for coolest animal of the week.

Weird Animal Question of the Week answers your questions every Saturday. If you have a question about the weird and wild animal world, tweet me, leave me a note or photo in the comments below, or find me on Facebook.

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