The Loh Down On Science

Monkey Mobsters

This salon treatment isn't for wimps. Monkey wimps, anyway.

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

It has long been known that monkeys like to groom each other. It's a friendly gesture that cements social bonds. Like, "Hey, buddy, let me eat those bugs and dandruff caught in your fur..."

Or is it?

Meet Richard McFarland and Bonaventura Majolo from the University of Lincoln in the UK. They studied a group of wild macaques in Morocco.

They found that grooming wasn't all fun and games. Rather, dominant individuals regularly chased, bit, and generally slapped around subordinates -- who then usually responded by grooming the aggressor. Those that didn't? Got their monkey butts kicked.

In this species, groomers are bullied into serving others. In fact, the greater the difference in social status between a pair, the more often the high muckamuck forces its minion to do favors. It's a rare case of social coercion in animals. Further study could shed light on the evolution of inequality, social pressure, and punishment in human societies.

We can only assume when they study the mechanics of manipedis and tipping, that won't be pretty either.



The Loh Down on Science, online, at lohdown.org. Produced by 89.3 KPCC and the California Institute of Technology, and made possible by TIAA-CREF.

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