“Advertising for monkeys” is just too good a phrase to pass up.
Even since ads created for a study investigating whether monkeys respond to billboards debuted at the Cannes Lions ad conference, the headlines have been flowing freely. We learn Yale primatologist Laurie Santos and two ad executives came up with the idea at last year’s TED, after Santos gave a talk on her experiments showing that monkeys that learn to use money are as irrational about it as we are.
Ad firm Proton has now developed two billboards to hang outside capuchin monkeys’ enclosures, and the researchers plan to see whether they will prefer one kind of food, or “brand,” over another when it is shown in close proximity to some titillating photos, including a “graphic shot” of a female monkey exposing her genitals and a shot of the troop’s alpha male with the food.
The number of traits chalked up as “distinctly human” seem to dwindle each year. And now, we can’t even say that we’re uniquely aware of the limits of our knowledge: It seems that some monkeys understand uncertainty too.
A team of researchers taught macaques how to maneuver a joystick to indicate whether the pixel density on a screen was sparse or dense. Given a pixel scenario, the monkeys would maneuver a joystick to a letter S (for sparse) or D (for dense). They were given a treat when they selected the correct answer, but when they were wrong, the game paused for a couple seconds. A third possible answer, though, allowed the monkeys to select a question mark, and thereby forgo the pause (and potentially get more treats).
And as John David Smith, a researcher at SUNY Buffalo, and Michael Beran, a researcher at Georgia State University, announced at the AAAS meeting this weekend, the macaques selected the question mark just as humans do when they encounter a mind-stumping question. As Smith told the BBC, “Monkeys apparently appreciate when they are likely to make an error…. They seem to know when they don’t know.”
What monkey mothers eat has a large impact on how skittish their offspring act in stressful situations like stranger danger–or the presence of a Mr. Potato Head in their cage.
According to researchers, even normal monkeys find the toy’s large eyes to be “mildly stressful.” But baby monkeys from mothers who were fed a high-fat diet (over 35 percent of calories from fat, modeled after a typical American diet) had a much stronger reaction to an encounter with the spud man, and also spazzed in the presence of an unknown human.
The study, presented at the Society for Neuroscience annual conference, found that in stressful situations, the female offspring were more anxious and the males more aggressive, explains LiveScience:
In some monkey species, monkey moms use snuggle time with their babies as a commodity. Mothers will “sell” time with their children to other females in their colony for the price of several minutes of grooming. As Science News puts it, they have a “do my hair before you touch my baby” rule.
The research team who made this discovery, which was described in the journal Animal Behaviour, studied vervet monkeys and sooty mangabeys in the Ivory Coast’s Tai National Park. Newborn infants draw crowds of female monkeys who want to touch, hold, and make lip-smacking noises at the babies. Touching of the baby can be had for a price of a few minutes spent grooming its mother, though it’s not really known why female monkeys are so drawn to the young of others.
The locals living in a remote Burmese forest gave wildlife biologists very clear instructions on how to find a rare species of monkey: Just go out on a rainy day, and listen for sneezes in the treetops. The snub-nosed monkey has nostrils that point up, they said, and it sneezes when rainwater drips into its nose.
Even with these amazingly great directions, the biologists failed to photograph a live specimen of the Burmese snub-nosed monkey–the image at right is a digital reconstruction of what the monkey probably looks like. Still, their examination of skins and skulls in the villagers’ possession provided enough evidence to declare that the monkey was a new species that had never before been described in the scientific literature. BBC reports:
One pied tamaran turns to another: Do you hear that infant monkey call?
That’s one weird-sounding baby, the other responds. Shrugging their shoulders, the pair goes to investigate. Surprise! It’s not a baby monkey at all, but a margay cat doing impersonations. Then it’s up to the monkeys to escape becoming a snack.
In the domain of jungle tricks, monkeys usually take center-stage. They may give false alarms to steal bananas or (shamelessly) carry an infant to strike up a conversation. But the above fake-out scene, documented in 2005 by Wildlife Conservation Society researchers, hinted that at least one feline is giving monkeys a dose of their own medicine.
We’ve all seen this scene being played out in the local park: When a guy walks a cute dog, people don’t hesitate to approach him to strike up a conversation about schnauzer breeds. Or there’s the guy-with-a-baby scenario, in which the baby-hauling dad is perceived as friendly and non-threatening (not to mention irresistible to some women).
Now, new research from France suggests that male Barbary macaques may be onto the same “baby effect” strategy. The study found that male macaques with an infant were more likely to make male monkey buddies, as the presence of a tiny, defenseless baby immediately breaks down barriers.
The study, which is due to be published in the journal Animal Behavior, is also the first to demonstrate that infants can serve as social tools for some primates, writes Discovery News.
Fool me with monkeys once, shame on you. Fool me twice… well, Puerto Ricans won’t get fooled again.
Some people on the island commonwealth are up in arms over the proposal by a company called Bioculture Ltd. to make Puerto Rico a major supplier of primates to researchers in the United States. Beyond the ethical issues connected to animal testing, the AP reports, Puerto Ricans have “a bad history with research monkeys”:
The U.S. territory has long struggled to control hundreds of patas monkeys, descendants of primates that escaped in recent decades from research projects and now thrive in the lush tropical environment.
No labs want the patas monkeys because they’re no longer right for research, and many are diseased. There isn’t much demand from zoos, either. So rangers from the island’s Department of Natural Resources trap and kill them.
Bioculture counters that its proposed facility in the mountainous region of Guayama would bring 50 jobs and other economic benefits, like buying fruit from local farms to feed the African monkeys, to a place currently reeling from 16 percent unemployment. Bioculture executive Moses Mark Bushmitz tried to reassure people from the Guyama neighborhood of Carmen, which is near the proposed facility, that their homes would be no more run over with research primates than homes in Cambridge, Mass.:
“You have monkeys in MIT, you have monkeys in Harvard,” Bushmitz said. “So why isn’t it an issue if the monkey will escape in Harvard, but it is an issue if a monkey will escape in Carmen?”
To be fair, though, there isn’t a history of monkeys that “run though backyards, stop traffic and destroy crops” in Harvard Yard.
Discoblog: Are “Microlungs” the End of Lab Rat Experiments?
Discoblog: Muriqui Monkeys, However Gentle, Will Kill to Mate
80beats: NASA’s Plan to Irradiate Monkeys Raises Cruelty Concerns
Image: flickr /Mr. Theklan
• A new music video, “Take Aim at Climate Change,” puts some beats to an earth-inspired message. It was released by Polar-Palooza, a multimedia initiative supported by NASA and the National Science Foundation.
• Thanks to new iPods for the womb, your unborn children can hear your REO Speedwagon playlist.
• A man helped his wife deliver a baby he did not know was coming—he thought her weight gain was related to quitting smoking.
• They’re not on a low-cal diet, red pandas just prefer Sweet’N Low (and other artificial sweeteners) to natural sugar.
• And if you think you had a rough week—at least you’re not 26 and trapped inside a two-year-old‘s body.
Yes, it’s true: The economic crisis has not only clobbered the restaurant industry, but now it’s brought at least one business to hire monkeys. CNN reports that a sake house in Tokyo has “recruited” two Japanese Macaques as waitstaff. Yes, you heard right—they’re using trained monkeys as employees.
The monkeys’ job duties—which can last no more than two hours a day to avoid violating animal rights regulations—include offering hot towels to diners, delivering change, and serving beers. While health regulations in the area are as strict as anywhere else, the monkeys have been “deemed sanitary” by health inspectors so long as they wear their (adorable) checkered kimono uniforms.