The muriqui have a reputation as being one of the gentlest, most social of the primates—so much so that they’ve been dubbed the “hippy monkey.”But even the sweetest of animals will turn murderous when deprived of basic needs—in this case, sex. New Scientist reports that a gang of six muriqui was spotted pulling a “Lord of the Flies” on an older male:
The victim, an old male, died an hour after receiving savage bites to his face, body and genitals. The observations, published this week in the American Journal of Primatology, show how lifestyles may dramatically alter the behaviour of a species.
So why would these peaceful creatures, close relatives of spider monkeys found only in the Atlantic forests of Brazil, turn to such savagery? NS explains:
The muriqui’s peaceful reputation stems mainly from northern populations that feed on abundant leaves, and where males patiently queue to mate with females.
But in the southern population where the attack took place, fruit is more widely available than in the north, and this may provide a clue to the assault, says Mauricio Talebi of the Federal University of São Paulo-Diadema, Brazil, who led the research.
Because fruit is widely dispersed, females detach from the main group to locate it, making them less available for sex with the males than in the north where everyone stays together to eat leaves.
Lacking ready mates, males may become frustrated, creating mutual tension and aggression.
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Image: Flickr / Felipe Sussekind