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Concept: Japanese Macaque


For four decades, the inability of nonhuman primates to produce human speech sounds has been claimed to stem from limitations in their vocal tract anatomy, a conclusion based on plaster casts made from the vocal tract of a monkey cadaver. We used x-ray videos to quantify vocal tract dynamics in living macaques during vocalization, facial displays, and feeding. We demonstrate that the macaque vocal tract could easily produce an adequate range of speech sounds to support spoken language, showing that previous techniques based on postmortem samples drastically underestimated primate vocal capabilities. Our findings imply that the evolution of human speech capabilities required neural changes rather than modifications of vocal anatomy. Macaques have a speech-ready vocal tract but lack a speech-ready brain to control it.

Concepts: Language, Macaque, Primate, Rhesus Macaque, Monkey, Japanese Macaque, Barbary Macaque, Cercopithecinae


To evaluate the biological effect of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, relative differences in the growth of wild Japanese monkeys (Macaca fuscata) were measured before and after the disaster of 2011 in Fukushima City, which is approximately 70‚ÄČkm from the nuclear power plant, by performing external measurements on fetuses collected from 2008 to 2016. Comparing the relative growth of 31 fetuses conceived prior to the disaster and 31 fetuses conceived after the disaster in terms of body weight and head size (product of the occipital frontal diameter and biparietal diameter) to crown-rump length ratio revealed that body weight growth rate and proportional head size were significantly lower in fetuses conceived after the disaster. No significant difference was observed in nutritional indicators for the fetuses' mothers. Accordingly, radiation exposure could be one factor contributed to the observed growth delay in this study.

Concepts: Chernobyl disaster, Primate, Nuclear power, Japanese Macaque, Lists of nuclear disasters and radioactive incidents, Nuclear safety, Three Mile Island accident, Nuclear Regulatory Commission


Interspecies sexual behaviour or ‘reproductive interference’ has been reported across a wide range of animal taxa. However, most of these occurrences were observed in phylogenetically close species and were mainly discussed in terms of their effect on fitness, hybridization and species survival. The few cases of heterospecific mating in distant species occurred between animals that were bred and maintained in captivity. Only one scientific study has reported this phenomenon, describing sexual harassment of king penguins by an Antarctic fur seal. This is the first article to report mating behaviour between a male Japanese macaque (Macaca fuscata yakui) and female sika deer (Cervus nippon yakushimae) on Yakushima Island, Japan. Although Japanese macaques are known to ride deer, this individual showed clearly sexual behaviour towards several female deer, some of which tried to escape whilst others accepted the mount. This male seems to belong to a group of peripheral males. Although this phenomenon may be explained as copulation learning, this is highly unlikely. The most realistic hypothesis would be that of mate deprivation, which states that males with limited access to females are more likely to display this behaviour. Whatever the cause for this event may be, the observation of highly unusual animal behaviour may be a key to understanding the evolution of heterospecific mating behaviour in the animal kingdom.

Concepts: Scientific method, Male, Reproduction, Deer, Sex, Macaque, Primate, Japanese Macaque


This is the first quantitative study of heterospecific sexual behavior between a non-human primate and a non-primate species. We observed multiple occurrences of free-ranging adolescent female Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) performing mounts and sexual solicitations toward sika deer (Cervus nippon) at Minoo, central Japan. Our comparative description of monkey-deer versus monkey-monkey interactions supported the “heterospecific sexual behavior” hypothesis: the mounts and demonstrative solicitations performed by adolescent female Japanese macaques toward sika deer were sexual in nature. In line with our previous research on the development of homospecific sexual behavior in immature female Japanese macaques, this study will allow us to test other hypotheses in the future, such as the “practice for homospecific sex,” the “safe sex,” the “homospecific sex deprivation,” the “developmental by-product,” and the “cultural heterospecific sex” hypotheses. Further research will be necessary to ascertain whether this group-specific sexual behavior was a short-lived fad or an incipient cultural phenomenon and may also contribute to better understanding the proximate and ultimate causes of reproductive interference.

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Deer, Macaque, Primate, Human sexual behavior, Japanese Macaque, Sika Deer


The prehensile hand is one of the major traits distinguishing primates from other mammal species. All primates, in fact, are able to grasp an object and hold it in part or entirely using a single hand. Although there is a wealth of behavioral data regarding grasping movements in humans and apes, there is relatively little material on macaques, the animal model often used to investigate neuronal mechanisms responsible for grip control in humans. To date, evidence regarding free-ranging macaques is confined to observational data, while quantitative reports describe studies carried out in laboratory settings or in captivity. The purpose of the present study was to provide the first kinematic descriptions of basic grip behavior with regard to precision and power grips in free-ranging macaque monkeys. Video footage of those animals grasping objects was analyzed frame-by-frame using digitalization techniques. The results revealed that the two types of grips considered are each characterized by specific kinematic signatures. It was also found that hand kinematics was scaled depending on the type of grasp needing to be adopted and the intrinsic properties of the object to be grasped. In accordance with data concerning humans, these findings indicate that the intrinsic features of an object affect the planning and control of reach-to-grasp movements even in free-ranging macaques. The data presented here take research in the field of comparative reach-to-grasp kinematics in human and non-human primates another step forward as they are based on precise measurements of spontaneous grasping movements by animals living/acting in their natural environment.

Concepts: Human, Mammal, Macaque, Primate, Hominidae, Gorilla, Japanese Macaque, Barbary Macaque


The ability of animals to survive dramatic climates depends on their physiology, morphology and behaviour, but is often influenced by the configuration of their habitat. Along with autonomic responses, thermoregulatory behaviours, including postural adjustments, social aggregation, and use of trees for shelter, help individuals maintain homeostasis across climate variations. Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) are the world’s most northerly species of nonhuman primates and have adapted to extremely cold environments. Given that thermoregulatory stress can increase glucocorticoid concentrations in primates, we hypothesized that by using an available hot spring, Japanese macaques could gain protection against weather-induced cold stress during winter. We studied 12 adult female Japanese macaques living in Jigokudani Monkey Park, Japan, during the spring birth season (April to June) and winter mating season (October to December). We collected faecal samples for determination of faecal glucocorticoid (fGC) metabolite concentrations by enzyme immunoassay, as well as behavioural data to determine time spent in the hot springs, dominance rank, aggression rates, and affiliative behaviours. We used nonparametric statistics to examine seasonal changes in hot spring bathing, and the relationship between rank and air temperature on hot spring bathing. We used general linear mixed-effect models to examine factors impacting hormone concentrations. We found that Japanese macaques use hot spring bathing for thermoregulation during the winter. In the studied troop, the single hot spring is a restricted resource favoured by dominant females. High social rank had both costs and benefits: dominant females sustained high fGC levels, which were associated with high aggression rates in winter, but benefited by priority of access to the hot spring, which was associated with low fGC concentrations and therefore might help reduce energy expenditure and subsequent body heat loss. This unique habit of hot spring bathing by Japanese macaques illustrates how behavioural flexibility can help counter cold climate stress, with likely implications for reproduction and survival.

Concepts: Macaque, Primate, Behavior, Season, Spring, Japanese Macaque, Hot spring, Winter


Primates live in highly social environments, where prosocial behaviors promote social bonds and cohesion and contribute to group members' fitness. Despite a growing interest in the biological basis of nonhuman primates' social interactions, their underlying motivations remain a matter of debate. We report that macaque monkeys take into account the welfare of their peers when making behavioral choices bringing about pleasant or unpleasant outcomes to a monkey partner. Two macaques took turns in making decisions that could impact their own welfare or their partner’s. Most monkeys were inclined to refrain from delivering a mildly aversive airpuff and to grant juice rewards to their partner. Choice consistency between these two types of outcome suggests that monkeys display coherent motivations in different social interactions. Furthermore, spontaneous affilitative group interactions in the home environment were mostly consistent with the measured social decisions, thus emphasizing the impact of preexisting social bonds on decision-making. Interestingly, unique behavioral markers predicted these decisions: benevolence was associated with enhanced mutual gaze and empathic eye blinking, whereas indifference or malevolence was associated with lower or suppressed such responses. Together our results suggest that prosocial decision-making is sustained by an intrinsic motivation for social affiliation and controlled through positive and negative vicarious reinforcements.

Concepts: Decision making, Sociology, Macaque, Primate, Behavior, Motivation, Monkey, Japanese Macaque


Maternal obesity contributes to an increased risk of lifelong morbidity and mortality for both the mother and her offspring. In order to better understand the molecular mechanisms underlying these risks, we previously established and extensively characterized a primate model in Macaca fuscata (Japanese macaque). In prior studies we have demonstrated that a high fat, caloric dense maternal diet structures the offspring’s epigenome, metabolome, and intestinal microbiome. During the course of this work we have consistently observed that a 36% fat diet leads to obesity in the majority, but not all, of exposed dams. In the current study, we sought to identify the genomic loci rendering resistance to obesity despite chronic consumption of a high fat diet in macaque dams. Through extensive phenotyping together with exon capture array and targeted resequencing, we identified three novel single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), two in apolipoprotein B (APOB) and one in phospholipase A2 (PLA2G4A) that significantly associated with persistent weight stability and insulin sensitivity in lean macaques. By application of explicit orthogonal modeling (NOIA), we estimated the polygenic and interactive nature of these loci against multiple metabolic traits and their measures (i.e., serum LDL levels) which collectively render an obesity resistant phenotype in our adult female dams.

Concepts: DNA, Bioinformatics, Metabolism, Nutrition, Macaque, Primate, Apolipoprotein B, Japanese Macaque


Taste sensitivity differs among animal species depending on feeding habitat. To humans, sucrose is one of the sweetest natural sugars, and this trait is expected to be similar in other primates. However, previous behavioral tests have shown that some primate species have equal preferences for maltose and sucrose. Because sweet tastes are recognized when compounds bind to the sweet taste receptor Tas1R2/Tas1R3, we evaluated the responses of human and Japanese macaque Tas1R2/Tas1R3 to various natural sugars using a heterologous expression system. Human Tas1R2/Tas1R3 showed high sensitivity to sucrose, as expected; however, Japanese macaque Tas1R2/Tas1R3 showed equally high sensitivity to maltose and sucrose. Furthermore, Japanese macaques showed equally high sensitivity to sucrose and maltose in a two-bottle behavioral experiment. These results indicate that Japanese macaques have high sensitivity to maltose, and this sensitivity is directly related to Tas1R2/Tas1R3 function. This is the first molecular biological evidence that for some primate species, sucrose is not the most preferable natural sugar, as it is for humans.

Concepts: Human, Mammal, Macaque, Primate, Sugar, Japanese Macaque, Old World monkey, Sweetness


To elucidate how gaze informs the construction of mental space during wayfinding in visual species like primates, we jointly examined navigation behavior, visual exploration, and hippocampal activity as macaque monkeys searched a virtual reality maze for a reward. Cells sensitive to place also responded to one or more variables like head direction, point of gaze, or task context. Many cells fired at the sight (and in anticipation) of a single landmark in a viewpoint- or task-dependent manner, simultaneously encoding the animal’s logical situation within a set of actions leading to the goal. Overall, hippocampal activity was best fit by a fine-grained state space comprising current position, view, and action contexts. Our findings indicate that counterparts of rodent place cells in primates embody multidimensional, task-situated knowledge pertaining to the target of gaze, therein supporting self-awareness in the construction of space.

Concepts: Memory, Hippocampus, Macaque, Olfaction, Primate, Virtual, Place cell, Japanese Macaque