Monkeys go bananas at the sight of flying squirrel

July 31st, 2010 - 6:21 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, July 31 (ANI): A study has shown that small monkeys called Japanese macaques go bananas when they see a flying squirrel.

Researchers say that the riled-up response could probably be just a false alarm, with the monkeys mistaking the squirrel for a predatory bird or were trying to impress females in the troop.

Kenji Onishi, an assistant professor of behavioural sciences at Osaka University and lead author of the paper, conducted the study on the macaques’ complex social interactions.

According to the researchers, when Japanese giant flying squirrels glided over to a tree in the monkeys’ vicinity, adults and adolescent macaques started hollering at it threateningly.

Young macaques screamed and mothers scooped up their infants, while adults and high-ranking males in particular went and physically harassed the offending squirrel.

Onishi said other researchers have observed macaques responding in a similarly aggressive manner to birds that prey on the monkeys, such as the golden eagle and mountain hawk eagle.

Even after a close inspection up in a tree or on the ground, and finding the squirrel is no bird of prey, the hackles of the macaques are still raised.

Onishi said when chasing macaques did succeed in getting close to these infringing squirrels, the monkeys tended to look on “in fear and hesitated to attack”.

In rare instances when the bolder monkeys did physically assault their quarry, Onishi said the squirrels were neither harmed nor eaten and eventually escaped.

Mewa Singh, a professor of psychology at the University of Mysore in India who has studied macaques, pointed out that the flying squirrels are generally nocturnal, whereas the monkeys are active during the day.

“The interactions between monkeys and a flying squirrel, therefore, are not expected to be frequent and the monkeys may not “know” whether the squirrel is a predator or not,” Live Science quoted Singh, who was not involved in the study, as saying.

Nevertheless, the fact that adult males had a greater tendency to be the ones beleaguering the flying squirrels led Onishi and his co-authors to speculate that a measure of flaunting biological fitness to the females is in play.

At the same time, a generic “battle stations!” response to raptor-like behaviours from any sort of animal, whether featured like a bird or not, might prime the macaques for when real danger glides into town.

Onishi added that this hair-trigger might increase the possibility that macaques in the troop “survive when true predatory threats emerge”.

The study is being published in the current issue of the journal Primate Research. (ANI)

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