Japanese Macaque
The Japanese macaque historically known as saru ("monkey"), but now known as Nihonzaru (Nihon "Japan" + saru) to distinguish it from other primates, is a terrestrial Old World monkey
Old World monkey
The Old World monkeys or Cercopithecidae are a group of primates, falling in the superfamily Cercopithecoidea in the clade Catarrhini. The Old World monkeys are native to Africa and Asia today, inhabiting a range of environments from tropical rain forest to savanna, shrubland and mountainous...

 species native to Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...


It is also sometimes known as the snow monkey from the fact that it lives in areas where snow covers the ground for months each year—no primate, with the exception of humans, is more northern-living, nor lives in a colder climate.

Individuals have brown-grey fur, a red face, and a short tail. There are two subspecies

An introduced free-ranging population has been living near Laredo, Texas
Laredo, Texas
Laredo is the county seat of Webb County, Texas, United States, located on the north bank of the Rio Grande in South Texas, across from Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. According to the 2010 census, the city population was 236,091 making it the 3rd largest on the United States-Mexican border,...

 since 1972.

Physical characteristics

The Japanese macaque is sexually dimorphic
Sexual dimorphism
Sexual dimorphism is a phenotypic difference between males and females of the same species. Examples of such differences include differences in morphology, ornamentation, and behavior.-Examples:-Ornamentation / coloration:...

. Males weigh on average 11.3 kg (24.91 lb) while females average 8.4 kg (18.52 lb). Macaques from colder areas tend to weigh more than ones from warmer areas. Male average height is 570.1 mm (22.44 in) and female average height is 522.8 mm (20.58 in). Japanese macaques have short stumps for tails that average 92.51 mm (3.64 in) in males and 79.08 mm (3.11 in) in females. The macaque has a pinkish face and posterior. The rest of its body is covered in hair that can be brown, greyish, or yellowish. The coat of the macaque is well adapted to the cold and its thickness increases as temperature decreases. The macaque can cope with temperatures as low as -20° C (-4° F).

Macaques mostly move on all fours. They are semi-terrestrial with females spending more time in the trees and males spending more time on the ground. Macaques are known to leap. They are also great swimmers and have been reported to swim over half a kilometer. The longevity for the macaque averages 6.3 years, (at least for females). However, they have been known to live much longer; males have lived up to 28 years and females up to 32 years.

Range and habitat

The Japanese macaque is the northernmost-living non-human primate. It is found on three of the four main Japanese islands: Honshu
is the largest island of Japan. The nation's main island, it is south of Hokkaido across the Tsugaru Strait, north of Shikoku across the Inland Sea, and northeast of Kyushu across the Kanmon Strait...

, Shikoku
is the smallest and least populous of the four main islands of Japan, located south of Honshū and east of the island of Kyūshū. Its ancient names include Iyo-no-futana-shima , Iyo-shima , and Futana-shima...

, and Kyushu
is the third largest island of Japan and most southwesterly of its four main islands. Its alternate ancient names include , , and . The historical regional name is referred to Kyushu and its surrounding islands....

. The northernmost populations live on the Shimokita peninsula
Shimokita Peninsula
The Shimokita Peninsula is the remote northeastern cape of the Japanese island of Honshū, stretching out towards Hokkaidō. Administratively the area is a part of Aomori Prefecture....

, the northernmost point of Honshu. Several of Japan’s smaller islands are also inhabited by macaques. The southernmost population lives on Yakushima Island and are a subspecies of the mainland macaques. The total population of Japanese macaques has been estimated to be 114,431 monkeys.
The Japanese macaque lives in a variety of habitats. It inhabits sub-tropical forests in the southern part of its range and sub-arctic forests in mountainous areas in the northern part of its range. It can be found in both warm and cool forests, though usually between those extremes. This includes the deciduous forests of central and northern Japan and the broadleaf evergreen forests in the southwest of the islands. Warm temperate evergreen and broadleaf forests and the cool temperate deciduous broadleaf forests are the most important habitats for macaques.


In 1972, a troop of about 150 Japanese macaques were relocated from Kyoto to a primate observatory in southwest Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

. The observatory is an enclosed ranch-style environment and the macaques have been allowed to roam with minimal human interference. At first many perished in the unfamiliar habitat, which consists of arid brushland. The macaques eventually adapted to the environment, and learned to forage for mesquite beans, cactus fruits, and other foods. The macaques flourished and by 1995 the troop consisted of 500 to 600 individuals. In 1996, hunters maimed or killed four escaped macaques, and as a result legal restrictions were publicly clarified and funds were raised to establish a new 186 acres (75.3 ha) sanctuary near Dilley, Texas
Dilley, Texas
Dilley is a city in Frio County, Texas, United States. The population was 3,674 at the 2000 census. It is located off Interstate 35 south of the county seat in Pearsall.-Geography:Dilley is located at ....



The Japanese macaque is omnivorous and will eat a variety of foods. Over 213 species of plant are included on the macaque’s diet. It also eats insects and soil. On Yakushima island, fruit, mature leaves and fallen seeds are primarily eaten. Here the macaque also eats fungi, ferns, invertebrates, soil and other parts of plants. In addition, on Yakushima, their diet varies seasonally with fruits being eaten in the summer and herbs being eaten in the winter. Further north, macaque most eat foods like fruit and nuts to store fat for the winter, which is when food is scarce. On the northern island of Kinkazan, macaques mostly eat fallen seeds, herbs, young leaves and fruits. When preferred food items are not available, macaques will dig up underground plant parts such as roots or eat soil and fish.


The Japanese macaque is diurnal. In colder areas, from autumn to early winter, the daily activities of macaques are made of three bouts of feed separated by other activities. In the winter, macaques have 2-4 feeding bouts each day with fewer daily activities. In the spring and summer, macaques have 2-3 bouts of feeding each day. In warmer areas like Yakushima, daily activities are more varied. The typical day for a macaque is 20.9% inactive, 22.8% traveling, 23.5% feeding, 27.9% social grooming, 1.2% self-grooming, and 3.7% other activities. Macaque usually sleep in trees but will also sleep on the ground and often sleep on flat rocks and fallen trees or behind them. During the winter, macaques huddle together for warmth in sleeping grounds. Macaques at Jigokudani Monkey Park
Jigokudani Monkey Park
Jigokudani Monkey Park is in Yamanouchi, Shimotakai District, Nagano Prefecture, Japan at . It is part of the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park , and is located in the valley of the Yokoyu-River, in the northern part of the prefecture...

 are notable for visiting the hot springs in the winter to warm up.

Group structure

Japanese macaques live in matrilineal groups with females remaining in their natal groups for life and males emigrating before sexual maturity. Macaque groups tend to contain both multiple males and multiple females. In addition, a macaque troop contains multiple matrilines. These matrilines may exist in a dominance hierarchy with all members of a specific group ranking over members of a lower ranking group. Temporary all-male groups also exist, composed of those that have recently left their natal groups and are about to transfer to another group. However, many males spend a lot of time away from any group and may leave and join several groups.

Males within a group have a dominance hierarchy with one male having alpha status. The dominance status of male macaques usually changes with the death or departure of a former alpha male. Other ways in which status changes is when an alpha male loses his rank or when a troop splits, leaving a new alpha position. The longer a male is in a troop, the higher his status is likely to be. Females also exist in a stable dominance hierarchy, and female offspring ranks are similar to those of their mothers. Younger females tend to rank higher than their older siblings. Higher-ranking matrilines have greater social cohesion. Strong relationships with dominant females can allow dominant males to retain their rank when they otherwise wouldn’t.

Females maintain both social relationships and hygiene through grooming. Grooming occurs regardless of climate and seasonal difference. Females who are matrilineally related groom each other more often than unrelated individuals. Grooming between unrelated females does occur and serves to maintain group cohesion and social relationships between different kinships in a troop. Nevertheless a female will only groom a small consort of other females even if the group increases in number. Females will also groom males. This is usually for hygienic purposes but can serve to attract dominant males to the group. Mothers pass their grooming techniques to their offspring most likely though social rather than genetic means.

Mating and parenting

A key feature of Japanese macaque reproductive behavior is consortship. A male and female will form a pair bond and mate, feed, rest and travel together and this typically lasts 1.6 days on average during the mating season. Female enter into consortships with an average of four males a season. Higher-ranking males have longer consortships than their subordinates. In addition, higher-ranking males will try to disrupt consortships of lower-ranking males. Females will attempt to mate with males of all ranks. However, they are more likely to mate with dominant males as they are more successful in mate guarding. It is the female that ultimately decides whether mating will occur. In addition, dominance does not insure mating opportunities with receptive females. Many of the females’ copulations are with non-troop males who will leave soon after the mating season. Females will also engage in same-sex mounting. Such behavior is likely linked to hormones and is more common than male mounting behavior.

During the mating season, the face and genitalia of males turn deep red and the tail will stand erect to expose the bright genitals. In addition, females' faces and anogenital regions turn scarlet. Macaques will copulate both arboreally and terrestrially. Macaques signal when they are really to mate by looking backward over a shoulder, remaining very still, or walking backwards towards the potential partner. A female will emit a "smooth-late-high coo", or "squawk", "squeak", or produce an atonal "cackle" during copulation. Males have no copulatory vocalizations.

A macaque mother moves to the periphery of her troop to give birth in a private spot, unless the group is moving by which the female will not separate from her troop. Macaques usually give birth on the ground in the wild. Infants are born with dark-brown hair. They will consume their first solid food at 5-6 weeks and can forage independently from their mothers by 7 weeks. A mother carries her infant ventrally for its first four weeks. After this time, the mother will carry her infant dorsally as well. Infants continue to be carried up to and past a year. A mother and her infant have a somewhat avoidant relationship with other troop members and the mother only slowly resumes her social activities. However, alloparenting
In biology and sociology, alloparenting is where individuals other than the actual parents act in a parental role.One common form of alloparenting is where grandparents adopt a parental role. This is sometimes named a "skipped generation household"...

 has been observed, usually by females who have not had an infant of their own. Male care of infants occurs in some groups but not in others: usually older males protecting, grooming, and carrying an infant as a female would.

Infants have completed their locomotive development within 3–4 months. When an infant is seven months old its mother discourages suckling; full weaning happens at least by its 18th month. In some populations, male infants tend to play in larger groups more often than females. However, female infants have more social contact and groom more often than males. Males prefer to associate with similar males by two years of age. Females infants preferentially associate with other females of all age and sex classes as well as with infants and adult males.


During feeding or moving, Japanese macaques often emit "coos". These most likely maintain group cohesion, with females reinforcing their social ties. When uttered, macaques respond in kind. It is also uttered before grooming along with the "girney" call. Variants of the "girney" call have specific purposes and effect different outcomes. This call also serves as appeasement between individuals during aggressive encounters. Macaques have alarm calls for alerting to danger, and other calls to signal estrous. These sound similar. Threat calls are heard during aggressive encounters and are often uttered by supporters of those involved in antagonistic interactions. The individual being supported will support the caller in the future, fending off future attacks.

Intelligence and culture

The Japanese macaque is a very intelligent species. Researchers studying this species at Koshima island in Japan left sweet potato
Sweet potato
The sweet potato is a dicotyledonous plant that belongs to the family Convolvulaceae. Its large, starchy, sweet-tasting, tuberous roots are an important root vegetable. The young leaves and shoots are sometimes eaten as greens. Of the approximately 50 genera and more than 1,000 species of...

es out on the beach for them to feed on, then witnessed one female, named Imo (Japanese for yam or potato), washing the food off with river water rather than brushing it off as the others were doing, and later even dipping her clean food into salty sea water. After a while, others started to copy her behavior. This trait was then passed on from generation to generation, until eventually all except the oldest members of the troop were washing their food and even seasoning it in the sea. She was similarly the first observed balling up wheat with air pockets, throwing it into the water, and waiting for it to float back up before picking it up and eating it free from dirt. An entirely altered misaccount of this incident is the basis for the fictitious "hundredth monkey" effect .

The macaque has other unusual behaviours, including bathing together in hot springs and rolling snowballs for fun. Also in recent studies it has been found that the Japanese Macaque can develop different accents, like humans. It was found that macaques in areas separated by only a few hundred miles can have very different pitches in their calls, their form of communication. The Japanese Macaque has been involved in many studies concerning neuroscience and also is used in drug testing.

Human interactions

Traditional manmade threats to macaques have been slash-and-burn agriculture, use of forest woods for construction and fuel, and hunting. These threats have declined due to social and economic changes in Japan since World War II. But other threats have emerged. The replacement of natural forest with lumber plantation is the most serious threat. As human settlement has grown, macaques have lost their fear of humans and have increased their presence in both rural and urban areas, with one macaque recorded living in central Tokyo for several months.

Cultural depictions

The Japanese macaque has featured prominently in the religion, folklore, and art of Japan, as well as in proverbs and idiomatic expressions in the Japanese language. In Shinto
or Shintoism, also kami-no-michi, is the indigenous spirituality of Japan and the Japanese people. It is a set of practices, to be carried out diligently, to establish a connection between present day Japan and its ancient past. Shinto practices were first recorded and codified in the written...

 belief, mythical beasts known as raijū
Raijū is a legendary creature from Japanese mythology. Its body is composed of either lightning or fire and may be in the shape of a cat, tanuki, monkey, or weasel. The form of a white and blue wolf is also common...

sometimes appeared as monkeys and kept Raijin
is a god of lightning, thunder and storms in the Shinto religion and in Japanese mythology.His name is derived from the Japanese words rai and shin . He is typically depicted as a demon beating drums to create thunder, usually with the symbol tomoe drawn on the drums...

, the god of lightning, company. The "Three wise monkeys
Three wise monkeys
The Three Wise Monkeys , sometimes called the Three Mystic Apes, are a pictorial maxim. Together they embody the proverbial principle to "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil"...

", who warn people to "see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil", are carved in relief over the door of the famous Tōshō-gū shrine in Nikkō. The Japanese macaque is a feature of several fairy tales, such as the tale of Momotaro
is a popular hero from Japanese folklore. His name literally means Peach Tarō; as Tarō is a common Japanese boy's name, it is often translated as Peach Boy...

and the fable about the The Crab and the Monkey
The Crab and the Monkey
The Crab and the Monkey, also known as or The Quarrel of the Monkey and the Crab, is a Japanese folktale. In the story, a sly monkey kills a crab, and is later killed in revenge by the crab's offspring. Retributive justice is the main theme of the story.The Crab and the Monkey is included in the...

. As a monkey is a part of the Chinese zodiac
Chinese zodiac
The Shēngxiào , better known in English as the Chinese Zodiac, is a scheme that relates each year to an animal and its reputed attributes, according to a 12-year mathematical cycle...

, which has been used for centuries in Japan, the creature was sometimes portrayed in paintings of the Edo Period
' is a genre of Japanese woodblock prints and paintings produced between the 17th and the 20th centuries, featuring motifs of landscapes, tales from history, the theatre, and pleasure quarters...

 as a tangible metaphor for a particular year. The 19th-century artist and samurai
is the term for the military nobility of pre-industrial Japan. According to translator William Scott Wilson: "In Chinese, the character 侍 was originally a verb meaning to wait upon or accompany a person in the upper ranks of society, and this is also true of the original term in Japanese, saburau...

 Watanabe Kazan
Watanabe Kazan
was a Japanese painter, scholar and statesman member of the samurai class.- Early life :He was born Watanabe Sadayasu in Edo to a poor samurai family, and his artistic talent was developed from an early age. His family served the lord of the Tahara Domain, located in present day Aichi prefecture....

 created a painting of a macaque. During the Edo Period
Edo period
The , or , is a division of Japanese history which was ruled by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family, running from 1603 to 1868. The political entity of this period was the Tokugawa shogunate....

, numerous clasps for kimono
The is a Japanese traditional garment worn by men, women and children. The word "kimono", which literally means a "thing to wear" , has come to denote these full-length robes...

or tobacco
Tobacco is an agricultural product processed from the leaves of plants in the genus Nicotiana. It can be consumed, used as a pesticide and, in the form of nicotine tartrate, used in some medicines...

 pouches (collectively called netsuke
Netsuke are miniature sculptures that were invented in 17th-century Japan to serve a practical function...

) were carved in the shape of macaques.

Spoken references to macaques abound in the history of Japan. Before his rise to power, the famed samurai Toyotomi Hideyoshi
Toyotomi Hideyoshi
was a daimyo warrior, general and politician of the Sengoku period. He unified the political factions of Japan. He succeeded his former liege lord, Oda Nobunaga, and brought an end to the Sengoku period. The period of his rule is often called the Momoyama period, named after Hideyoshi's castle...

 was compared to a monkey in appearance and nicknamed Kozaru ("Little Monkey") by his lord and master, Oda Nobunaga
Oda Nobunaga
was the initiator of the unification of Japan under the shogunate in the late 16th century, which ruled Japan until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. He was also a major daimyo during the Sengoku period of Japanese history. His opus was continued, completed and finalized by his successors Toyotomi...

. This was a humorous jibe at first, but was later used pejoratively by Hideyoshi's rivals. In modern Japanese culture, because monkeys are considered to indulge their libido
Libido refers to a person's sex drive or desire for sexual activity. The desire for sex is an aspect of a person's sexuality, but varies enormously from one person to another, and it also varies depending on circumstances at a particular time. A person who has extremely frequent or a suddenly...

 openly and frequently (much the same way as rabbit
Rabbits are small mammals in the family Leporidae of the order Lagomorpha, found in several parts of the world...

s are thought to in some Western cultures), a man who is preoccupied with sex might be compared to or metaphorically referred to as a monkey, as might a romantically involved couple who are exceptionally amorous.

External links

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