|Illustration by J.T. Steiny|
2005 was a big year for primates and the primatologists who study them:
Nicknamed the “eighth continent” for its vast biological diversity, Madagascar produced two new lemur species this year. Lemurs are the fuzzy ancestral (and endangered) cousins of monkeys and apes. All 49 species exist solely on the island.
There’s now evidence that chimpanzees speak to each other directly about
their environment. Using high-pitched noises or low-pitched grunts, chimps communicate
in detail, particularly about their food. At the Edinburgh Zoo, for instance,
it was learned that the chimps hate apples. Ranking much higher on their menu:
In Japan, researchers discovered that monkey talk isn’t all the same. Like humans, they have regional dialects. What’s more, their voice tone often reflects the specific terrain. For instance, monkeys living on Yakushima Island have a high-toned accent because tall trees on the island tend to block their voices.
Science has yet to explain why humans yawn, or why we yawn when we see other people yawn. What we do now know is that both great apes and the lesser primates (macaques and lemurs) also yawn contagiously.
Fruit and Sex
Capuchin monkeys learned to use money this year. Using a silver disk as currency that could be exchanged for food, the critters quickly developed budgeting and began following the basic rules of utility maximization and price theory. A capuchin even discovered the fungibility of money — that it could be used to buy not only food, but anything. The first new monetary monkey market: sex. Researchers were stunned when a male offered a female a token for a quick roll in the hay and she accepted. Afterward, the female traded her new token for a tasty grape.
Field researchers in the Republic of Congo caught gorillas in the wild using tools. One female lowland gorilla named Leah was filmed using a long stick to gauge water depth while walking through a swamp pond. Another researcher saw a different female lay down a dead tree trunk to cross a deep patch in the same swamp.
Gigantopithecus blacki (a.k.a. Giganto) was a prehistoric ape
that stood 12 feet tall and weighed 1,200 pounds. Giganto’s fossil remains were
first discovered in 1935 in a Hong Kong pharmacy, and paleontologists long thought
the species died out a million years ago. But this year researchers learned that
the creature lived as recently as 100,000 years ago — side by side with modern
Homo sapiens, i.e., us. Could he still be roaming the forests of the Pacific Northwest?
The common name of a new species of titi monkey discovered last year at the Madidi National Park in Bolivia was auctioned off to the highest bidder. The winner: GoldenPalace.com, which paid $650,000 to put its moniker on the new GoldenPalace.com Monkey.
Monkeys Like the Same Toys as Human Children
A psychologist at Texas A&M University published findings in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior showing that male monkeys like to play with toy cars while female monkeys prefer dolls.
They Also Love Celebrities
An experiment at Duke University Medical Center offered thirsty monkeys
a choice: their favorite drink, in this case, Juicy Juice brand cherry drink,
or the opportunity to look at computer images of the dominant, “celebrity” monkey
of their pack. Despite their thirst, they chose to look at the pictures. Monkeys
with status have food, power and sexual magnetism — everything the others crave.
The impulse to look at these “celebrity” monkeys was so strong, it superseded
Surprise! They Dig Porn, Too
In the same experiment, researchers discovered that their monkeys would
give up significant juice rewards if it meant viewing female behinds.