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Japanese macaque

japanese macaque, japanese macaque hot springs
Macaca fuscata fuscata
Macaca fuscata yakui

In Japan, the species is known as Nihonzaru Nihon 日本 "Japan" + saru 猿 "monkey" to distinguish it from other primates, but the Japanese macaque is very familiar in Japan, so when Japanese people simply say saru, they usually have in mind the Japanese macaque


  • 1 Physical characteristics
  • 2 Behavior
    • 21 Group structure
    • 22 Mating and parenting
    • 23 Communication
    • 24 Intelligence and culture
  • 3 Ecology
    • 31 Diet
  • 4 Distribution and habitat
  • 5 Relationship with humans
    • 51 Cultural depictions
  • 6 References
  • 7 External links

Physical characteristicsedit

Skull of a Japanese macaque

The Japanese macaque is sexually dimorphic Males weigh on average 113 kg 25 lb, while females average 84 kg 19 lb6 Macaques from colder areas tend to weigh more than ones from warmer areas7 Male average height is 5701 mm 2244 in and female average height is 5228 mm 2058 in6 Their brain size is about 95 g 34 oz Japanese macaques have short stumps for tails that average 9251 mm 3642 in in males and 7908 mm 3113 in in females7 The macaque has a pinkish face and posterior8 The rest of its body is covered in brown or greyish hair6 The coat of the macaque is well-adapted to the cold and its thickness increases as temperatures decrease The macaque can cope with temperatures as low as -20 °C -4 °F9

Macaques mostly move on all fours They are semiterrestrial, with females spending more time in the trees and males spending more time on the ground Macaques are known to leap They are also great swimmers and have been reported to swim over half a kilometer6 The longevity for the macaque averages 63 years at least for females10 However, they have been known to live much longer; males have lived up to 28 years and females up to 32 years11


Group structureedit

Japanese macaques grooming

Japanese macaques live in matrilineal societies,6 and females stay in their natal groups for life, while males move out before they are sexually mature12 Macaque groups tend to contain a number of adults of both sexes In addition, a macaque troop contains several matrilines These matrilines may exist in a dominance hierarchy with all members of a specific group ranking over members of a lower-ranking group13 Temporary all-male groups also exist, composed of those that have recently left their natal groups and are about to transfer to another group6 However, many males spend ample time away from any group14 and may leave and join several groups6

Japanese macaques at Jigokudani hotspring in Nagano have become notable for their winter visits to the spa Play media Jigokudani

Males within a group have a dominance hierarchy, with one male having alpha status The dominance status of male macaques usually changes when a former alpha male leaves or dies15 Other ways in which status changes is when an alpha male loses his rank or when a troop splits, leaving a new alpha position open15 The longer a male is in a troop, the higher his status is likely to be16 Females also exist in a stable dominance hierarchy, and a female's rank depends on her mother Younger females tend to rank higher than their older siblings1317 Higher-ranking matrilines have greater social cohesion18 Strong relationships with dominant females can allow dominant males to retain their rank when they otherwise would not19

Females maintain both social relationships and hygiene through grooming Grooming occurs regardless of climate or season20 Females which are matrilineally related groom each other more often than unrelated individuals21 Females will also groom unrelated females to maintain group cohesion and social relationships between different kinships in a troop22 Nevertheless, a female will only groom a limited number of other females, even if the group expands22 Females will also groom males, usually for hygienic purposes, but it can serve to attract dominant males to the group23 Mothers pass their grooming techniques to their offspring most probably through social rather than genetic means24

Mating and parentingedit

Macaques mating

A male and female macaque form a pair bond and mate, feed, rest, and travel together, and this typically lasts 16 days on average during the mating season25 Females enter into consortships with an average of four males a season26 Higher-ranking males have longer consortships than their subordinates25 In addition, higher-ranking males try to disrupt consortships of lower-ranking males27 Females attempt to mate with males of any rank However, dominant males mate more as they are more successful in mate guarding28 The female decides whether mating takes place In addition, dominance does not mean a male will successfully mate with a female6 Males may also temporarily join another troop during the mating season and mate with the females29 Females also engage in same-sex mounting Such behavior is likely because of hormones and females are mounted more often by other females than males30

During the mating season, the face and genitalia of males redden and the tail stands erect31 In addition, females' faces and anogenital regions turn scarlet31 Macaques copulate both on the ground and in the trees,32 and roughly one in three copulations leads to ejaculation33 Macaques signal when they are ready to mate by looking backward over a shoulder, staying still, or walking backwards towards their potential partner34 A female emits a "smooth-late-high coo", or "squawk", "squeak", or produce an atonal "cackle" during copulation Males have no copulatory vocalizations

Mother macaque with infant

A macaque mother moves to the periphery of her troop to give birth in a secluded spot,35 unless the group is moving, when the female must stay with it36 Macaques usually give birth on the ground6 Infants are born with dark-brown hair37 They consume their first solid food at five to six weeks old, and can forage independently from their mothers by seven weeks37 A mother carries her infant on her belly for its first four weeks After this time, the mother carries her infant on her back, as well Infants continue to be carried past a year37 A mother and her infant tend to avoid other troop members, and the mother may socialize again very slowly38 However, alloparenting has been observed, usually by females which have not had infants of their own37 Male care of infants occurs in some groups, but not in others; usually, older males protect, groom, and carry an infant as a female would39

Infants have fully developed their locomotive abilities within three to four months40 When an infant is seven months old, its mother discourages suckling; full weaning happens by its 18th month In some populations, male infants tend to play in larger groups more often than females41 However, female infants have more social interaction than their male counterparts41 Males prefer to associate with other males around the same age, when they are two years old42 Female infants will associate with individuals of all ages and sexes


During feeding or moving, Japanese macaques often emit "coos" These most likely serve to keep the troop together and strengthen social relations between females43 Macaques usually respond to coos with coos of their own44 Coos are also uttered before grooming along with "girney" calls Variants of the "girney" call are made in different contexts45 This call also serves as appeasement between individuals in aggressive encounters46 Macaques have alarm calls for alerting to danger, and other calls to signal estrus that sound similar to danger alerts Threat calls are heard during aggressive encounters and are often uttered by supporters of those involved in antagonistic interactions The individual being supported support the caller in the future47

Intelligence and cultureedit

Macaques at a hot spring

The Japanese macaque is a very intelligent species Researchers studying this species at Koshima Island in Japan left sweet potatoes out on the beach for them to eat, then witnessed one female, named Imo Japanese for yam or potato, washing the food off with river water rather than brushing it off as the others were doing, and later even dipping her clean food into salty sea water484950 After a while, others started to copy her behavior This trait was then passed on from generation to generation, until eventually all except the oldest members of the troop were washing their food and even seasoning it in the sea4849 She was similarly the first observed balling up wheat with air pockets, throwing it into the water, and waiting for it to float back up before picking it up and eating it free from soil4950 An altered misaccount of this incident is the basis for the "hundredth monkey" effect51

The macaque has other unusual behaviours, including bathing together in hot springs and rolling snowballs for fun49 Also, in recent studies, the Japanese macaque has been found to develop different accents, like humans52 Macaques in areas separated by only a few hundred miles can have very different pitches in their calls, their form of communication The Japanese macaque has been involved in many studies concerning neuroscience and also is used in drug testingcitation needed


The Japanese macaque is diurnal In colder areas, from autumn to early winter, macaques feed in between different activities In the winter, macaques have two to four feeding bouts each day with fewer daily activities In the spring and summer, they have two or three bouts of feeding daily32 In warmer areas such as Yakushima, daily activities are more varied The typical day for a macaque is 209% inactive, 228% traveling, 235% feeding, 279% social grooming, 12% self-grooming, and 37% other activities53 Macaques usually sleep in trees, but also sleep on the ground, as well as on or near rocks and fallen trees6 During the winter, macaques huddle together for warmth in sleeping grounds54 Macaques at Jigokudani Monkey Park are notable for visiting the hot springs in the winter to warm up


Macaque juvenile yawning

The Japanese macaque is omnivorous and eats a variety of foods Over 213 species of plants are included on the macaque's diet55 It also eats insects, bark, and soil55 On Yakushima Island, fruit, mature leaves, and fallen seeds are primarily eaten56 The macaque also eats fungi, ferns, invertebrates, and other parts of plants56 In addition, on Yakushima, their diets vary seasonally with fruits being eaten in the summer and herbs being eaten in the winter57 Further north, macaques mostly eat foods such as fruit and nuts to store fat for the winter, when food is scarce58 On the northern island of Kinkazan, macaques mostly eat fallen seeds, herbs, young leaves, and fruits59 When preferred food items are not available, macaques dig up underground plant parts roots or rhizomes or eat soil and fish55

Distribution and habitatedit

The Japanese macaque is the northernmost-living nonhuman primate It is found on three of the four main Japanese islands: Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu6 The northernmost populations live on the Shimokita Peninsula, the northernmost point of Honshu60 Several of Japan’s smaller islands are also inhabited by macaques6 The southernmost population living on Yakushima Island is a subspecies of the mainland macaques60 The total population of Japanese macaques has been estimated to be 114,431 monkeys661

The Japanese macaque lives in a variety of habitats It inhabits subtropical forests in the southern part of its range and subarctic forests in mountainous areas in the northern part of its range It can be found in both warm and cool forests, such as the deciduous forests of central and northern Japan and the broadleaf evergreen forests in the southwest of the islands60 Warm temperate evergreen and broadleaf forests and the cool temperate deciduous broadleaf forests are the most important habitats for macaques6

In 1972, a troop of about 150 Japanese macaques was relocated from Kyoto to a primate observatory in southwest Texas, USA The observatory is an enclosed ranch-style environment and the macaques have been allowed to roam with minimal human interference At first, many perished in the unfamiliar habitat, which consists of arid brushland The macaques eventually adapted to the environment, and learned to forage for mesquite beans, cactus fruits, and other foods The macaques flourished, and by 1995, the troop consisted of 500 to 600 individuals In 1996, hunters maimed or killed four escaped macaques; as a result, legal restrictions were publicly clarified and funds were raised to establish a new 186-acre 75-ha sanctuary near Dilley, Texas6263

Relationship with humansedit

Macaques being fed

Traditional manmade threats to macaques have been slash-and-burn agriculture, use of forest woods for construction and fuel, and hunting These threats have declined due to social and economic changes in Japan since World War II,64 but other threats have emerged The replacement of natural forest with lumber plantations is the most serious threat64 As human prosperity has grown, macaques have lost their fear of humans and have increased their presence in both rural and urban areas, with one macaque recorded living in central Tokyo for several months12

Cultural depictionsedit

Main article: Monkeys in Japanese culture Painting by Watanabe Kazan, 19th century

The Japanese macaque snow monkey has featured prominently in the religion, folklore, and art of Japan, as well as in proverbs and idiomatic expressions in the Japanese language In Shinto belief, mythical beasts known as raijū sometimes appeared as monkeys and kept Raijin, the god of lightning, company The "three wise monkeys", which warn people to "see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil", are carved in relief over the door of the famous Tōshō-gū shrine in Nikkō The Japanese macaque is a feature of several fairy tales, such as the tale of Momotaro and the fable about The Crab and the Monkey6566 As the monkey is part of the Chinese zodiac, which has been used for centuries in Japan, the creature was sometimes portrayed in paintings of the Edo Period as a tangible metaphor for a particular year The 19th-century artist and samurai Watanabe Kazan created a painting of a macaque67 During the Edo Period, numerous clasps for kimono or tobacco pouches collectively called netsuke were carved in the shape of macaques68

Spoken references to macaques abound in the history of Japan Before his rise to power, the famed samurai Toyotomi Hideyoshi was compared to a monkey in appearance and nicknamed Kozaru "Little Monkey" by his lord and master, Oda Nobunaga69not in citation given This was a humorous jibe at first, but was later used pejoratively by Hideyoshi's rivals In modern Japanese culture, because monkeys are considered to indulge their libido openly and frequently much the same way as rabbits are thought to in some Western cultures, a man who is preoccupied with sex might be compared to or metaphorically referred to as a monkey, as might a romantically involved couple who are exceptionally amorous


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External linksedit

  • "Macaca fuscata" Integrated Taxonomic Information System 
  • Jigokudani Yaen-Koen Info Page
  • AcaPixus images of Japanese macaque
  • Primate Info Net Macaca fuscata Factsheet
  • Human Factors & activities around Jigokudani-Shigakogen Forest Park
  • Mammals portal
  • Animals portal
  • Primates portal
  • Japan portal

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