The Dangerous Mandrill: They Can Kill You to Protect Territory

The magnificent mandrill is probably the most colorful mammal around the globe. When excited, its color pattern becomes even brighter. They also have an interesting mating habit. Here are 12 fun facts about these mandrills!

Scientific name: Mandrillus sphinx
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Genus: Mandrillus

1. They’re named after an ancient Greek

Mandrillus sphinx is the scientific name of the mandrill. It was named after an ancient Greek legendary character who has a human head and a body of an animal. This could possibly represent its unusual look. Its common name “mandrill” means “man ape”. However, it’s not an ape, but rather a species of monkey. It is also known as the “forest baboon.”

This mammal is one of just two species left in the genus. Mandrillus leucophaeus, sometimes known as the drill, is the other living species. Both drills and mandrills have identical social systems, habitats, and the looks. However, the drill is significantly less colorful than its cousin.

Like humans, each mandrill has its own set of fingerprints. They also have binocular vision thanks to the forward-pointing eyes.

2. Mandrills are the world’s biggest monkey

The mandrill is a member of the Cercopithecidae family, which contains all Old World monkeys. These monkeys can only be found in Asia and Africa. You can easily recognize them by their colorful colors. Among many primate species, the sexual dimorphism in these creatures is the greatest.

Males are 75 – 95 cm (30 – 37 in) long, whereas females are 55 – 66 cm (22 – 26 in). These lengths don’t include the length of the tail which is about 5 – 10 cm (2 – 4 in). Both genders have chest glands.

The male mandrill is the biggest monkey species on the planet. Its average weight is about 31kg (70 pounds), but it can weigh up to 45 kg (100 pounds) and have a height of more than 76 cm (30 inches). Its big canines can reach 4.5cm (1.8in) in length.

A giant mandrill

The female, on the other hand, has a substantially smaller size than the male. It’s about 13 kg (30 pounds) and 45-50cm tall (18-20in). Its canines are also substantially smaller, typically measuring approximately 1cm (0.4in).

Another key gendered distinction of this species is that the males have brighter colors. This has crucial implications for their mating behavior, as brighter colors may indicate dominance. 

Rafiki, the monkey in Disney’s “The Lion King” cartoon, is actually a mandrill with a distinctively colorful face.

3. They are the most colorful mammals

Mandrills have a unique look with a hairless face, pronounced brow, extended muzzle, and a short tail. It features an olive green, grey, or black coat. Its belly is covered with white fur. 

The unusual markings on specific sections of its body are the most distinguishing feature of the mandrills’ look. They have a red nose and blue ridges on the sides of the muzzle. The red stripe down the center is made up of crimson blood vessels, while the blue, grooved skin on two sides is made up of parallel arrangements of collagen fibers.

The face of a mandrill is full of colors

The animal also features red lips and a multicolored rump and private part. These regions are red, scarlet, blue, pink, and purple. Around the chin area is yellow fur.

With these colors, no other mammal has as many colors as the mandrill! These markings perform a vital social role in mandrill’s community. The males with brighter colors had more power and successful mating. Their skin color indicates their sexual health.

High-ranking, powerful males have bolder and brighter colors than subservient males. They also have higher levels of testosterone hormones than the others.

If the dominant male is defeated by a superior opponent, it can lower in rank. When this happens, its color fades, signifying to troop members that they are not the leader anymore. 

A female with vivid color, especially in the rump, signals males that she’s healthy and eager to breed.

When mandrills are excited, their colors will get more intense, particularly when they are in heat. It has red markings on its wrists and ankles, as well as a blue chest; the blue pad on its butt gets brighter. Compared to males, females have a duller complexion.

Some of the most colorful species-related articles you may read below:

4. Habitat

Mandrills mainly live in Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo, and Cameroon. In the wild, they are found mostly in Western African woodlands, frequently near rivers, marshes, or savannas. They also locate in agricultural regions and sometimes in grasslands.

5. Behavior

Mandrills are strong, territorial, and aggressive animals. If there are intruders, they will protect their territory by furiously striking the ground, and when in doubt, they attack. With their muscular and sharp fangs, they are entirely capable of assaulting and killing a human.

Mandrills could congregate or engage in competition with other primates, including gorillas, mangabeys, black-and-white colobuses, talapoins, chimpanzees, and guenons.

Mandrills are diurnal animals that hunt for food during the day and sleep at night. Unlike other monkeys, they don’t spend much time in trees. They just climb trees for food and cluster in the trees at night for safe and convenient sleep. Within their range, they frequently change the trees they sleep in each night.

Mandrills are quite dangerous

Most of the time, they live a life on the ground, leaping from branch to branch. They can walk on the toes of all four limbs on the ground. The animal can also sit or lay down. Their fore and back limbs are around the same length. The species also spend a significant time grooming.

One special thing about these creatures is that they can identify unwell troop members through their feces. By smelling the poop, they can detect specific chemical signs in the ill member. Mandrills won’t groom unhealthy group members, therefore, they are less likely to get sick themselves. This is a preventive strategy.

6. They are social animals

Mandrills are highly social animals that seek protection in huge groups. A group of mandrills is called a horde or a troop. One horde can have up to 50 individuals, and some troops can combine together for a short time. The biggest group ever reported was approximately 1,300 members.

A group can contain 50 members

Individuals in these communities follow a clear social hierarchy. Each group is led by a huge and flamboyant dominant male. The male takes responsibility to protect the group against external dangers. Its decisions can frequently determine the health and safety of the whole troop.

A single unit can control up to 50 square kilometers of land. These areas are scent-marked and vigorously protected against strangers.

7. They communicate in many ways

Mandrills have various ways to communicate with each other. They can transmit all kinds of information; such as breeding, playfulness, and cautions; through colors, body language, sounds, visual signals, and scent markers.

For instance, they will shake their heads and “grin” to reveal their teeth, which seems scary and intimidating. However, this is just a statement of friendship and happiness. If the mandrill gets angry, it will smack the ground noticeably or gaze at someone while scratching their forelimbs or thigh.

To strengthen relationships and keep group hierarchies, grooming is a good way. During this time, they make slapping noises similar to those made during mating. When a mandrill wants to be groomed, he shakes his head and shoulders.

To transmit emotion, they will use different vocal sounds like growls and howls. This usually happens when they lose visual contact with each other. They also make high-pitched noises when eating. When the group has to continue to move, the leader will make a two-phase grunting call.

With a smell gland on their chest, the animals may rub various compounds on things to announce their presence.

8. They eat hundreds of species

Mandrills are omnivorous animals, they eat both plants and animals. They consume all parts of the plants; from fruits, leaves, bark, and seeds to roots, stems, lianas, fibers, vines, and even fungi. They will even eat soil on occasion. 

For the carnivorous diet, they feed on worms, insects, amphibians, lizards, snails, eggs, frogs, and occasionally snakes and small mammals (rats, shrews). Bigger animals like deer and antelopes are also parts of their food. Their long and sharp canine teeth make preying on larger animals quite simple for them.

Due to its opposable thumbs on its hands and big toes, it can climb trees and grab objects. Their enormous cheek pouches help them store food in there to eat later.

Depending on the gender, mandrills will have different hunting methods. Adult males choose to eat on the ground, while females and the young prefer to feed in trees. By eating plants, these species have a vital ecological role by dispersing seeds across the local forest ecosystem.

Mandrills don’t have many natural predators in the wild due to their great size. Besides, the troop size provides them with sufficient protection against danger. If one member is in danger, it can defend and beat its opponent with its sharp long fangs.

Their main enemies are leopards and humans, who have long hunted them for food. They can also be killed by coming into touch with venomous snakes.

9. They have a harem

Mandrills live in a harem-style society where a single male lives with multiple females. The male rules and mates with every female in the group. In some unusual cases, the females are the ones to choose the males they’re gonna mate with. A theory holds that females prefer guys with the boldest colors, as we told in part 2.

This is sexual selection where one sex develops exaggerated traits to send information and persuade the opposite sex to select a suitable partner. 

The mating season of mandrills is usually from July to October every 2 years. The female will go through the 6-month gestation period and give birth to one child between December and April. In captivity, some species can give birth twins. 

The newborn has black fur and pink skin for its first two months. The older it gets, the more colors appear. Its mother and other females of the group (cousins, aunts, sisters) will feed it, take care of it and secure it.

A female with their 2 youngs

Within 6 – 12 months, the young are weaned. The females reach sexual maturity at the age of at least 4 years old, whereas, the males need 9 years to fully grow. At this time, After that, females keep staying with their original unit to build deep lifelong relationships with one another. The males, on the other hand, have to leave the group and occasionally create all-male groups.  

They live in the wild for more than 20 years. In captivity, their lifespan is longer, the oldest recorded mandrill was 46 years.

10. They’re smart

Unlike chimpanzees and gorillas, the intelligence of mandrills hasn’t been studied. However, people that have observed them in the wild and in captivity stated that they can use different tools, both for hunting and grooming. According to research, they can also recognize faces, have long-term memory and problem – solving skills.

11. Mandrill vs Baboon

The mandrill was previously classed as a member of the Papio genus, which includes baboons. However, they were later found out to be Mandrils were later discovered to be genetically unique and have evolved earlier. They now have their own genus, Mandrillus. This species is often mistaken for the baboon. So, what’s the difference between a mandrill and a baboon?

ColorsMultiple colors on their bodies: red, pink, blue, purple, and yellow.
Not much color on their bodies, including olive, brown, or gray face and body.
HabitatOnly in AfricaAfrica and the Arabian peninsular
Body sizeBigger
Muzzle colorRed muzzles with multiple blue ridgesPink
Conservation statusVulnerableLeast concerned

12. They are threatened

Mandrills play an important role in seed spreading. However, they’re endangered. These monkeys are currently threatened by the collapse of their native habitat because of logging. This makes mandrills have to move to remote environments, resulting in another severe threat – poaching for meat.

People cannot estimate the population of these animals. On the IUCN Red List, this species is now categorized as Vulnerable (VU).


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