Snow monkeys live father north than any other non-human primate. In Japan, they survive the cold northern temperatures with long, thick fur and an occasional dip in a volcanic hot spring.
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aka Japanese Macaque
These semi-terrestrial monkeys use their physical strength, long canine teeth, and well-ordered social structure to stay safe from predators while spending time on the ground. With fur that grows thicker as temperatures drop, they are well-suited for cool climates and can be found farther north than any other non-human primate.
What They Eat
Wild snow monkeys spend a large part of their day foraging. They love fruit, but depending on what is available will eat plants, small animals, insects, farm crops, and even soil. During winters with heavy snowfall, they rely heavily on eating bark.
Where They Live
These monkeys are native to three of Japan’s four main islands. Whether in the sub-tropical lowlands at the southern end of their range, or in the sub-alpine regions at its northernmost reaches, these semi-terrestrial monkeys spend most of their time on the ground.
What They Do
Highly social, snow monkeys spend time traveling, feeding, and grooming in troops consisting of 10 to 70 or more individuals. In winter they may sun themselves, soak in hot springs, or huddle together on the ground in sleeping groups to keep warm.
How They’re Doing
Snow monkeys have been officially protected from hunting in Japan since 1947. In general, this species is not experiencing any serious declines, although there are some local populations under threat due to loss of habitat and their perception as agricultural pests.
At the Zoo
Snow monkeys have an active social life and quickly win the hearts of the people watching them. The Minnesota Zoo is fortunate enough to be one of only ten accredited zoos in the United States to exhibit snow monkeys.
Our troop is a mix of adults, juveniles, and infants. Their enclosure is located across from the gift shop near the zoo’s South Entrance where they can be observed from inside the zoo or from outdoors on the ramp to our upper plaza.
Click on an image to enlarge.
Scientists put monkeys into two main groups, Old World monkeys or New World monkeys, based upon the region where they are found. Old World monkeys, like snow monkeys, are found in Africa and Asia.
Monkeys hold a special place in Japanese religion and folklore. They are considered messengers of the gods, and symbols of success and good forturne. The famous “hear, speak, and see no evil” monkeys are from a Japanese proverb.
Snow monkeys have special cheek pouches. While foraging, they stash extra food in their pouches and chew it later.
In the wild, snow monkeys are listed as being of least concern by the World Conservation Union. Main threats to their populations include habitat loss due to logging, capture for the pet trade, hunting for meat, and shootings by farmers defending crop-raids. More field research on current populations is needed to determine the extent of these threats to remaining animals.
Things the Zoo's Done/Doing
Because of their wide geographical range and complex social structure, snow monkeys are widely studied. Here at the Minnesota Zoo, our troop is studied by staff and local universities carrying out research on animal behavior.
The zoo is currently conducting an ongoing study to better understand our troop’s social structure. This study is helping us “map out” the troop’s hierarchy, and will help us in the future when introducing new animals to the group.
The study also gives us information about how our snow monkeys spend time during the day. By comparing our troop’s activity levels to those of other wild or captive troops, we can evaluate and make changes to our enrichment, husbandry, and exhibit procedures to help stimulate a more natural environment for the animals.
Snow monkeys have been known to cause great agricultural damage in Japan. Researchers at the Kyoto University Primate Research Institute (PRI) in Japan, maintain that one of the major problems facing snow monkey conservation is the shooting of animals due to crop-raiding. In 2008, the Minnesota Zoo, in collaboration with the Buffalo and Blank Park Zoos, helped PRI purchase GPS and UHF radio collars for monitoring wild troops of snow monkeys. Collaring monkeys within wild troops helps researchers monitor troop movements and better understand their home ranges, activity patterns, and how often they come into contact with agricultural and urban areas. Through our continued support, we hope the data gained from this research will help improve Snow monkey conservation efforts and reduce or remove the need to cull these animals from the wild.
The Minnesota Zoo participates in the Species Survival Program (SSP) for snow monkeys. One of the purposes of this program is to breed Snow monkeys in order to maintain genetically healthy populations in zoos and aquariums.
Since 1978, the Minnesota Zoo has successfully birthed 61 snow monkeys that have gone into the SSP pool. We hope to breed more soon.
Snow monkeys are medium-sized primates with a stout body, strong limbs, and a very short tail. Males of this species are slightly larger than the females. Both have a dense fur coat that is mottled gray to brown in color.
Range and Habitat
Although they can be found in habitats ranging from sub-tropical broad leaf forests to sub-alpine coniferous forests, snow monkeys live in four main areas of Japan: the Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu, and Takeshima Islands. Two subspecies of Macaca fuscata are found on the large southern islands of Japan, making their range the northernmost of any non-human primate. Weather conditions there can be harsh, with winter temperatures often falling below freezing and snow accumulating to depths of several feet, so it is not difficult to understand why snow monkeys were chosen for display at the Minnesota Zoo.
Snow monkeys are omnivores, but primarily fruit-eaters. Depending on what food is available, they will eat a variety of plants, insects, and occasionally small animals. In some parts of their range, snow monkeys raid cultivated crops such as rice, maize, and potatoes and are considered pests by local farmers. Monkeys living in sub-alpine habitats may forage heavily on bark in winter.
Habits and Adaptations
These social animals live in troops ranging from 25 to over 100 individuals--usually with one adult male for every four females. Active during the day, they spend much of their time foraging for food. Snow monkeys are adapted to a semi-terrestrial life and spend a large part of their time on the ground. Strong bodies, long canine teeth, and a complex social structure help protect them from predators.
Snow monkeys communicate in three main ways: visually, vocally, and through touch. More than 30 vocal sounds have been recorded (including “screams” and “coos”), and a wide range of facial and body expressions (including the “fear grimace” and “open-mouthed” stare). At the zoo, our snow monkey exhibit features interpretive information to help visitors recognize and understand facial and body expressions while observing members of the troop interact.
Social grooming (one individual grooming another) is another important means of communication-helping to maintain and strengthen bonds between individuals-especially between females, and mothers and their infants.
Both males and female snow monkeys have multiple partners in a breeding season, but it's the female who picks who she wants to mate with. Selection is usually based on the rank of the male and how long he has been in the troop. Mating generally takes place in the fall and winter. A single offspring is born in April or May after a gestation period of 5-6 months. Newborns weigh about one pound. The mother will care for her infant until it is weaned-usually in its second year-and continue to teach it what to eat, where to sleep, and how to raise young until it reaches adulthood (age 3-5 years). Sometimes older siblings or unrelated males and females in the troop will also help care for a mother's young.
Studies have revealed that snow monkeys have a highly complex social structure that includes a strict dominance hierarchy. All animals of a troop know one another and each others’ social rank.
The most striking feature of social behavior in the troop is that a few males dominate all the other animals. The top position in the troop is the leader, or “alpha” male. Immediately below the alpha male are two or three “subleaders”, followed by most of the adult females, which reach puberty at three years and full body size at about six to eight years of age. The infants and juveniles form the middle of the hierarchy, with the remainder of the adult males at the bottom of the hierarchy. In the wild, these males would live on the periphery of the troop.
The “Alpha” Male
The dominant male is not at the top of the hierarchy because of his fighting ability or physical characteristics. Instead, the rank of each animal is closely correlated with the rank of its mother. You may see an adult male in the troop defended by its mother. The role of alpha male is to lead by directing the movement of the troop, and defending it.
The role of the subleaders is to stop fights. They do this by chasing away the more aggressive monkeys. When the alpha male is around, subleader males appear to be uncertain, and alternately threaten the fighters and turn to look at the alpha male.
The Adult Females
The role of the adult females is to raise their offspring and protect them. Mothers do not allow other snow monkeys to pick up their infants for several weeks after birth, although infants are a great source of interest to other females in the troop.
Juvenile males tend to spend more of their time rough-housing in play groups than juvenile females do. The females are mostly occupied with grooming activities with their mothers and sisters.