Monkey see, monkey door does she? Can the behavior of non-human primatestheir sociality, their intelligence, their communicationreally be chalked up to simple mimicry? Emphatically, absolutely: no. And as famed primatologist Julia Fischer reveals, the human bias inherent in this oft-uttered adage is our loss, for it is only through the study of our primate brethren that we may begin to understand ourselves.
An eye-opening blend of storytelling, memoir, and science, Monkeytalk takes us into the field and the world’s primate labs to investigate the intricacies of primate social mores through the lens of communication. After first detailing the social interactions of key species from her fieldworkfrom baby-wielding male Barbary macaques, who use infants as social accessories in a variety of interactions, to aggression among the chacma baboons of southern Africa and male-male tolerance among the Guinea baboons of SenegalFischer explores the role of social living in the rise of primate intelligence and communication, ultimately asking what the ways in which other primates communicate can teach us about the evolution of human language.
Funny and fascinating, Fischer’s tale roams from a dinner in the field shared with lionesses to insights gleaned from Rico, a border collie with an astonishing vocabulary, but its message is clear: it is humans who are the evolutionary mimics. The primate heritage visible in our species is far more striking than the reverse, and it is the monkeys who deserve to be seen. “The social life of macaques and baboons is a magnificent opera,” Fischer writes. “Permit me now to raise the curtain on it.”
|Publisher:||University of Chicago Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Julia Fischer is professor in the German Primate Center and head of the Department of Cognitive Ethology at Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany, as well as president of the European Federation of Primatology. Frederick B. Henry Jr. holds an MA in anthropology from the University of Chicago and is an independent scholar and translator of German who has worked with several university presses.
Read an Excerpt
Inside the Worlds and Minds Of Primates
By Julia Fischer, Frederick B. Henry Jr.
The University of Chicago PressCopyright © 2017 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
The stars of our show are Barbary macaques, chacma baboons, and Guinea baboons. Before I provide a more detailed description of these species, a few notes on the varied appearances and habits of primates in general are called for. The Primate order is marked by an extraordinary diversity of physical form, lifestyle, and social organization. The spectrum runs from the solitary aye-aye, a nocturnal lemur of Madagascar that taps for insects under tree bark with its long and slender middle finger, to South American squirrel monkeys living in large colonies, to harems of gorillas, whose adult males can reach a size of four hundred pounds.
Primates originated roughly eighty million years ago. The nearest living relatives of ancestral primates are the Philippine flying lemur and the Southeast Asian tree shrew, both of which give a sense of what life might have been like for the earliest primate species. Today the Primate order comprises two main lines. First, there are the Strepsirhini, including the galagos (bush babies), pottos, lorises, and Madagascar lemurs. A well-known example is the ring-tailed lemur with its distinctive black-and-white ringed tail. The second group is the Haplorhini, which includes tarsiers, small nocturnal primates of Southeast Asian rain forests, and true simians. The true simians appeared fifty to thirty-six million years ago and comprise New World and Old World monkeys. The latter group includes tailed Old World monkeys, small apes such as gibbons, and the great apes — that is, orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, and humans.
Among tailed Old World monkeys are the baboons, which I describe in greater detail below, and macaques such as the rhesus monkey, Barbary macaque, and Japanese macaque. Japanese macaques are especially famous for, and frequently photographed enjoying, their snow-encrusted hot spring baths. The guenons belong to this taxonomic group as well. One species in this group, the vervet monkey, has played a particularly important role in research on the communication of primates, and I will return to them in the third part of the book. In addition, the tailed Old World monkeys include colobine monkeys, prominent examples of which are the Asian Hanuman langurs and the black-and-white colobus monkeys of Africa with their showy and magnificent coats.
BARBARY MACAQUES: MODEL MONKEYS
I have studied Barbary macaques for many years, but I hadn't originally planned to do so. I had intended to become a marine biologist. After finishing my studies at the Free University of Berlin and the University of Glasgow, I was ready to begin doctoral work at the Sea Mammal Research Unit of Cambridge University. My final requirement was a course in behavioral biology. This took me to Rocamadour in southwestern France to investigate the social behavior of Barbary macaques at Le Forêt des Singes. Kurt Hammerschmidt, Henrike Hultsch, and Dietmar Todt, who later became my doctoral advisor, directed this fieldwork. The monkeys here, cavorting energetically around the park, gave me far greater inspiration than seals sprawling and loafing on a sea coast. Kurt is my best friend, and we continue to collaborate today as we did back then to shed light on the evolution of communication.
La Forêt des Singes — like the Trentham Monkey Forest in Staffordshire, England, or Monkey Mountain near Lake Constance in Germany — is mainly a tourist attraction. Visitors can stroll along established paths in the reserve and view the monkeys up close. But these parks are also well suited for scientific research and education. At Rocamadour, roughly 150 animals roam freely in three groups over an area of twenty hectares. They are given food and receive annual medical examinations, and live under no threat from predators — it is truly a monkey paradise. As Kurt observed: "The monkeys would happily visit their native wilderness, but they would be on the airplane the instant it headed back home." Hormonal contraception keeps the monkeys' birth rate in check. Despite these benefits for the monkeys, studies of captive animals are limited in the sort of questions they can reasonably pose. For example: Which male has the greatest mating success? Or: How much time must the animals spend in their daily quest for food? These are questions for which animals in captivity can provide no meaningful answers. On the other hand, because they are accustomed to humans and readily participate in non-intrusive experiments, such captive animals are ideal for studies of communication and intelligence.
Barbary macaques are the only macaques found in Africa, specifically in the forests and mountains of the middle and high Atlas, the mountainous Rif region of Morocco, and Kabylia in Algeria. There is a small population in Gibraltar as well. All other macaques are indigenous to Asia. Through evolution in harsh climates, the Barbary macaque has lost its tail, and for some time this led them to be classified with apes. In fact, the tail hasn't completely disappeared, as a small stub still remains. Over the cold winter months, they insulate themselves with a thick coat of fur. Autumn is mating season, and after a six-month gestation period, newborns arrive in the spring. Births usually happen in the evening or at night, when the danger of predators is minimal. In contrast to the brownish-yellow color of the adults, newborns have a pitch-black coat and pink faces and hands. A distinctive newborn coat is a common feature of many monkey species. Baboon infants are also black, except for those of the little-studied Kinda baboon, which are born with white fur.
The baby monkey spends the first week of its life clinging to its mother's belly. It grasps its mother's fur tightly with its hands and feet. If it lacks strength to hang on, the mother supports the baby with her free hand. After a few weeks, the baby is shifted to its mother's back. Among the tailless Barbary macaques, infants take a jockey position on the shoulders of the adult. Baboon babies, once a little bit older, can sit comfortably upright on the mother's back, leaning against her raised tail. But in Barbary macaques, mothers are not the only ones who care for and transport the young. More than in any other macaque species, male Barbary macaques express great interest in the little ones. Males frequently take the baby from its mother soon after birth and tote it around. Scientists initially believed this was an expression of paternal affection and concern for offspring, but genetic investigations disproved this idea. A second interpretation was that males sought popularity with mothers so as to have greater reproductive success in the next breeding season, but this argument was likewise found unsustainable. A third possibility remained, that infants were a kind of status symbol for males, and, indeed, newborns do in fact play a major role in male social relationships. If a male is carrying an infant, he can more confidently approach another male and engage in mutual grooming than if he approaches alone. When two male Barbary macaques sit together holding an infant, they often engage in a peculiar ritual, lifting the baby up high, nuzzling it, and thoroughly inspecting it. They chatter their teeth, smack their lips, and emit deep grunting sounds. Sometimes they will bask in the afterglow, calmly remaining beside each other, while at other times one of the males will brusquely snatch the infant up and rush off to repeat the ritual with another male. The more time a male spends with an infant, the greater his chances for such "triadic interactions." Yet this attention, this curious babysitting, is an expensive investment. As we discovered, the longer and more often males took responsibility for infants, the higher the levels of their stress hormones. Still, males who make a greater investment in infant care are rewarded with a prime position in the male social network, and those who build strong social bonds with male partners in the spring received continuing future support from these partners. Furthermore, evidence is growing that males with many strong social bonds have a greater reproductive success and thus transmit more genes into the next round of evolution.
"Success" in evolution is defined as the number of gene copies transmitted to the next generation. As a consequence, an organism is not restricted to investing in the production of its own offspring, but may also aid in the reproduction and survival of its kin. The more closelyindividuals are related — in other words, the more genetic material they share — the more valuable it is to support each other's offspring. The totality of all transmitted gene copies is what is called "inclusive fitness." Interestingly, even in the field of biology, a number of scientists were initially hard-pressed to accept this insight and the revolutionary ideas stemming from it, which gave impetus to the new field of sociobiology. The problem many had with this new field was that its key principles seemed to suggest social Darwinism, a brutal "survival of the fittest." What might make for success, though, is not always readily predictable. In dynamic and uncertain conditions, there may be advantages to being small, agile, and defensive. With the refinement of sociobiological theory and the death of several of its most influential protagonists and fiercest critics, such as Stephen Jay Gould, the heated ideological debate over sociobiology has for the most part subsided and become a subject for the history of science. And even those who accept the insights of sociobiology may freely choose not to follow its dictates. "My genes can jump into the lake," the evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker once remarked about his childlessness.
Like many primates, Barbary macaques are captivated by newborns. When I first observed a big group of monkeys fascinated by an infant, it occurred to me that a group of people cooing over a baby stroller was equally exhibiting primordial primate behavior. The enormous interest that group members take in a newborn isn't entirely without risk, however. A baby might be safely paraded around the neighborhood by a male, but it might just as easily be kidnapped by a senior or higher-ranking female and never returned to its mother.
Older, more experienced female Barbary macaques give birth early in the breeding season. These females know how to get their babies back from the males. Younger females have a more difficult time with this. At the birth of their first baby, they often have no idea how to cope. I once observed a young mother — in human terms a case of "teenage pregnancy" — carrying her infant around clumsily. She even sat down on top of it. Eventually she mastered how to properly carry her baby but at times still left it unattended. When the baby began to scream, she would hurry over and play with it. Fortunately, the infant was robust, and after several days the mother had gotten the hang of things. Such cases clearly show how learned experience is crucial for infant care. As I explain later, monkeys have an exceptional capacity for learning in numerous situations. But more importantly, the monkeys are not only capable of learning — they need to learn.
Young Barbary macaques fortunate enough to survive the risky newborn phase with a competent mother spend the first months of their lives either with her or in the care of a male. Males commonly develop an interest in a particular infant. The infant thus has a primary male caregiver and perhaps one or two auxiliary ones. The primary male brings the infant to its mother when it is thirsty or hungry. However, sometimes a male will sit for long periods holding an infant tightly by its ankle, totally unswayed by its cries (see fig. 5).
Over the summer, the baby's fur gradually takes on adult coloration. A golden streak graces the eyebrows. The pink face first pales and then bit by bit takes on adult coloring. The hands and feet grow darker and become almost as black as the tiny fingernails and toenails. The motor skills of the young monkeys rapidly improve. We sometimes describe three- to four-week-old monkeys as "frogs" because of how awkwardly they hop about, but within a few months they develop a normal gait. During this period, the most significant social partners besides the mother are other juveniles. The whole world is a playground: it is climbed on, balanced upon, and actively explored.
As in humans, mothering assumes different styles, varying with individual experience, personality, and sex of the infant. Some monkey mothers are overly protective, never letting their young ones have the freedom to explore the world as they want. Others, by contrast, are relaxed and let the infant choose whether to keep close to home or venture farther afield to play with others. In the first year of life, mother and child undergo a role reversal. Early on, the mother follows her infant solicitously, but as she prepares herself for another pregnancy by weaning, the infant suddenly finds itself chasing after its mother. It can no longer freely approach to nurse. Barbary macaque mothers wean their daughters earlier than their sons. This has been linked to the fact that males have little contact with their mothers after weaning, so a mother may keep a son around for a while longer, whereas daughters remain the most significant social partners of their mothers throughout life. During the weaning period, dramatic scenes may take place. I have seen a mother shielding her breast with her arm to prevent an infant from nursing, while the infant, throwing a tantrum, protested loudly with bristling fur and flashing teeth. Some young seem even to blackmail their mothers: they throw themselves from trees, somersault, and roll in the dirt. At first the mother may relent and permit the infant to nurse again. I once watched a mother offer her breast to an infant after a long tantrum, and then quickly withdraw it — apparently the infant had bitten her. In retaliation, the mother gave the baby a powerful bite on the leg. Among monkeys there is definitely a form of strict discipline.
The eminent evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers published a seminal work on this topic in the 1970s, in which he elucidates the "parent-offspring conflict." He argues that it is initially in the interest of the parent, in this case the mother, to invest maximally in its offspring to ensure their survival. In this first phase, the interest of the offspring is aligned with that of its parent. This state breaks down the moment the mother becomes ready for new offspring. She must gradually withdraw her investment, so to speak, in her existing offspring and reallocate the assets into a fund for future offspring. Hence, for example, she stops nursing and sets in motion the physical preparations for a new pregnancy. A similar logic underlies so-called sibling rivalry. On the one hand, an infant naturally seeks for itself the lion's share of maternal care and affection; on the other, by evolutionary imperative, the number of gene copies reproduced must be maximized. Therefore, a member of a sibling group is at the same time selfish and supportive of its siblings with whom it shares, depending on their paternal kinship, either half or a quarter of its genes. Human parents with more than one child are of course intimately familiar with this conflict.
Young females reach sexual maturity between three and a half to four and a half years. At this age they seem still a bit unsure what to make of the new situation they find themselves in. They have studiously avoided males, yet are now propelled toward them by surging hormones. A true tumult of ambivalent emotion is on display: they approach males apprehensively, grinning and chattering, only to run away screeching at a male's slightest movement. Ultimately, they find courage and flaunt their hind parts to the males, though it is difficult for a young female to maintain her balance when a male, almost twice her size, mounts her. Experienced females, by contrast, are able to turn around during copulation to look the male in the face and grasp his coat, a technique that hastens ejaculation, as does the staccato call emitted by females during copulation.
Young male Barbary macaques normally leave their birth group at four to five years of age, an especially precarious time for them. They first move to the periphery of their own group, assuming a sentry role of sorts, because there they are often the first to spy potential threats and alert the group with alarm calls. Then they begin moving toward a new, unfamiliar group. As yet immature, they are gangly, adolescent, and rowdy. They stand little chance against the full-grown adult males, who boast greater muscle mass, larger canines, and substantially thicker coats. Entering new groups often entails attack and injury, but this tenacity pays off if the young male is able to secure future mating opportunities with unrelated females.
Excerpted from Monkeytalk by Julia Fischer, Frederick B. Henry Jr.. Copyright © 2017 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part 1 Social Behavior 1
Primate Diversity 3
Barbary Macaques: Model Monkeys 4
Primate Social Systems 14
Social Organization 15
Mating Systems 17
Social Relationships 20
Chacma Baboons: Into the Wild 30
Baboon Camp 33
Long-Term Studies 37
Guinea Baboons: Uncharted Territories 46
An Expedition to Senegal 47
First Findings 52
The Evolution of Baboons 56
Challenges of the Third Kind 59
Part 2 Cognition 65
What Do Animals Think? 67
Trophy Hunters and Killjoys 68
The Social Brain 71
Physical Cognition 75
The Basics 75
Social Intelligence 95
Do Animals Have Culture? 95
Forms of Social Learning 100
Gaze Following 105
Social Knowledge 108
Theory of Mind 117
Seeing and Knowing 119
The Evolution of Intelligence 130
Part 3 Communication 133
What Is Communication? 135
Senders and Receivers 135
Signals and Cues 138
The Function of Monkey Sounds 139
Communication in Conflicts 140
Mating Calls 143
Group Coordination 144
The Evolution of Language: Beginnings 148
Early Theories 148
A Pioneer 150
Elements of Linguistic Competence 152
Ape Language Projects 153
Language Training for Apes 153
Symbolic Languages 155
Natural Communication in Primates 160
Alarm Calls 161
Vocal Behavior 164
Development of Reactions 175
Perception of Gradual Differences 176
Word Learning in a Domestic Dog 181
The Evolution of Language: State of the Art 188
Syntactic Abilities 188
Is There a Gene for Language? 192
Gestural Communication 193
Intentional Communication 197
Just for the Fun of It 202
The Evolution of Communication 204
Conclusion and Prospects 207