Creature Feature – Japanese Macaque

Macaca fuscata

The Japanese Macaque, also known as the Snow Monkey, lives the forested hilly areas of Japan, including Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu, and Takeshima islands. The home range is up to 3 square miles, and sometimes a troop’s range will overlap with the ranges of other troops. Snow monkey troops can be anywhere between 25 to more than 500 individuals, with usually one adult male for every four females. Life span is estimated to be up to 30 years in the wild.

The snow monkey is a medium-sized monkey, and the largest of the macaques. A male can weigh up to 50 pounds, with females being slightly smaller. And adult’s height is 18.5 to 24 inches tall, with a 3 to 5 inch tail. They have dense brown fur, and a reddish face and butt pads. The macaque diet includes fruit, roots, leaves, insects, and crops such as rice, maize & potatoes.

The Japanese Macaque is very intelligent. Researchers studying this species left sweet potatoes out on the beach for them to feed on, then witnessed one female taking the food down to the sea to wash the sand off it. After a while, others started to copy her behavior. This trait was then passed on from generation to generation, until eventually, all except the very oldest members of the troop were washing their food in the sea.

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 couple hundred miles can have very different pitches in their calls, their form of communication.

Despite being protected, the snow monkey population is declining due to habitat loss. About 5000 are captured or killed each year due to becoming agricultural pests.

Interesting Facts

  • The dominant male isn’t at the top of the hierarchy because of his fighting ability or physical characteristics, but because of the rank of his mother.
  • Macaques play a significant role in the mythology and folklore of Japan. Most familiar are the three monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
  • Their habitat is the northern-most of any non-human primate. They are also the most numerous primate after humans.
  • They have complex communications, with more than 30 vocal sounds, and a wide range of facial and body expressions.
  • Each snow monkey at the zoo has its own facial tattoos (a combination of dots) for quick and easy identification.

Information courtesy of

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