Finding Friends In Primate Places

After a long, harsh winter, scientists that were previously studying Barbary macaques from the mountains of Morocco stumbled upon some interesting insight into what helps them survive. The 2008-2009 winter in particular hit the population hard, with increased snow cover blocking food sources and causing widespread starvation. As a result, out of 47 adults that were part of the previous study, only 17 survived that winter. When analyzing those 17 survivors, research suggested that the individuals that had the most social contact were more likely to survive. This may be attributed to having more huddle partners or more hands on deck to search for and share food. The catch? Survival was not necessarily impacted by how close those friendships were. To make it through the winter, the researchers found it came down to quantity, not quality. Pete Birkinshaw BinaryApe/Flickr

Just like the human versions, nonhuman primates are social creatures. They clean each other, cooperate with each other, help each other with eating. This year, a few studies added even more to what we know about primate relationships, and indeed, science has been investigating this topic for quite some time. In 1991, the journal Lab Animal Science published a study on the topic titled “Social interaction in nonhuman primates: an underlying theme for primate research.” And then more than a decade later, a 2002 paper discussed the use of the “f-word” (aka friendship) in primatology. In the paper, primatologist Joan B. Silk, writes that using friendship to describe primate relationships is a possible “backlash against what some researchers see as a narrow-minded preoccupation with the negative aspects of animal behavior, such as competition, conflict, manipulation, coercion, and deception.” Instead of all that negativity, some scientists are looking at the more positive side of primate behavior. Despite critics of referring to these relationships as bonafide friendships, humans still turn to our fuzzy cousins as targets upon which to foist our friendly feelings.

Here are some of our favorite studies of primate companions: