Know Your Primate: Macaca fuscata

Order: Primates
Suborder: Anthropoidea
Infraorder: Catarrhini
Superfamily: Cercopithecoidea
Family: Cercopithecidae
Subfamily: Cercopithecinae
Genus: Macaca
Species: fuscata
Subspecies: M. f. fuscata, M. f. yakui
Common name: Japanese Macaque
The Japanese macaque is one of the more interesting macaque species, in my opinion, mainly because of some of the interesting behavior it displays.


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The Japanese macaque is the most northernmost living species of wild non-human primate and lives in Japan. They are medium size monkeys ranging in size from 2-4 feet long and 20-60 pounds in weight. They are a sexually dimorphic species. They are, primarily, terrestrial quadrupeds, although they do spend some time in trees (females more so than males).
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They live in multi-male/multi-female groups of around 20-30 individuals with a male dominance hierarchy. They eat anything they can get their hands on. Being the northernmost non-human primate they occasionally get cold. To overcome the weather they spend a fair amount of time soaking in hot springs.
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During the course of observation on the Japanese macaques several interesting behaviors were observed. When observers provisioned the monkeys (those living near the ocean – others wash them in rivers) with sweet potato’s, rice and grain, the monkeys would take them to the ocean and wash them. They would also drop handfuls of rice and grain in the ocean – the sand would settle and the rice and grain would float making it easier to eat. Then observers noticed that even a clean sweet potato was washed in the ocean – apparently the macaques developed a taste for sweet potatoes flavored with salt!
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Even more interesting is that all of these behaviors – soaking in hotsprings, washing sweet potatoes and floating grain rice and beans in water – were originated by juveniles, passed on to their mothers and then spread to the rest of the troop. Finally, young Japanese macaques learned to roll snowballs.
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They start by rolling them in their hands and then roll them along the ground to make them bigger. No word on whether snowball fights actually occur, but afarensis hopes they do…Finally, a picture that reeks of “teh cute”
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Blue Planet Biomes has some interesting info on Japanese macaques (several of the above pictures came from there). As does Primate Info Network

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One Response

  1. A documentary I watched recently on these macaques stated that their behavior in the hot springs was recent and learned from humans some 30 or more years ago. An intelligent young female noticed the humans in the water and joined them. Now the japanese have hot water springs reserved for the macaques and springs for humans. The same with the sweet potato washing. An intelligent young female figured it out and the rest of the troop learned from her.
    Of course, documentaries are documentaries and hardly peer reviewed.
    Just makes me wonder how much of human cultural evolution is due to intelligent young females.

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