Monkey Forest Tales: About baby monkey’s behaviors

Today’s post is about babies and some baby’s behaviors. Twenty-two years ago, when I started to study monkeys in a primary continuous forest of Tinigua National Park, I worked with baby’s behavior of red howler monkeys. My focus was on bridging behavior, a behavior involving baby monkeys and their mothers when babies start moving independently.

At this moment in their development, they are clumsy and sometimes they need some help to pass forest canopy gaps, kind of like when human babies start walking and need you to take their hands to cross a street or climb up a stair. So, when the canopy forest has gaps, mainly their moms use their bodies or part of it to make a bridge between branches so the baby can cross by themselves or to climb on their backs to cross on their mom’s backs, depending on their age.

Although this behavior is mainly done by the baby’s mom, it also sometimes is done by baby’s sister and brothers or aunts. This behavior can be done with part of the body (an arm or tail) or with the whole body. This behavior frequency seems to be dependent on the forest structure. A nice description of this behavior is found in a paper by Youlatus (1993).

Although I only saw this behavior in the fragmented area of this project once, its possible that it is more common because the canopy forest in the area is more irregular and presents more challenges to young individual’s movements. I also have seen this behavior in woolly monkeys, and it has been reported in spider monkeys too (van Roosmalen 1985). Most of the other primate species in the study area seem not to make this behavior. For Colombian squirrel monkeys, dusky titi monkeys and black-capped capuchins, when an infant is unable to cross a canopy gap, babies cries and their mothers (father in the dusky titi monkey case) or juveniles come back for them and help them cross the gaps by carrying them. This could be an interesting topic for a study if you enjoy looking at baby monkeys.

Another important behavior that seems to increase the baby monkey’s confidence when starting to move independently is playing. A big part of babies and juveniles time is spent playing. Although it seems to reduce its frequency during seasons in which resource availability is low.

Some of the baby and juvenile’s games seem to help them to develop some of the strengths necessary for their daily activities. Games like hanging by their tails (howlers, woolly and spider monkeys) or hanging only by their hind limbs seems to give them confidence, and strength their tail and hind limbs muscles, while interacting with other members of their groups, such other infants and/or juveniles. This is specially used by howler, woolly and spider monkeys who use their tails to reach food resources otherwise inaccessible to them.

Playing is also important for babies and juveniles as it develops their skills to interact with other members of their group as well as to create bonds between individuals. Some games include sexual behaviors such as mounting. This game is usually seen in black-capped capuchins and Colombian squirrel monkeys’ games in which juveniles, sub-adults and sometimes infants too, mount one another. Mostly this game involves only male individuals and it seems to help them make coalitions that they will use later in life.

In my next post, I will talk more about the baby’s behavior and how the different species present in the study area vary in their development.

Van Roosmalen, M.G.M. 1985. Habitat preferences, diet, feeding strategy and social organization of the black spider monkey [Ateles paniscus paniscus Linnaeus 1758] in Surinam. Acta Amazonica 15, Suppl.: 7 – 238.

Youlatus, D. 1993. Passages within a discontinuous canopy: bridging in the red howler monkey (Alouatta seniculus). Folia Primatologica 61: 144-147.

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