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Primate Family



Read more about capuchin monkeys
Black-capped Capuchins
© Tim Knight - Primate Gallery

Most primates live together in groups made up of adults and young. The largest groups, for example like baboons, may contain hundreds of animals, but most have between 10 and 20 in them. All group members work together to protect the herd, giving out cries of alarm when a predator is spotted, or another type of call when food is found.

Primate families come in many different varieties. On the one extreme, there are orangutans, where after mating takes place, the male has no contact with the mother or the offspring for about four years. The other end of the spectrum is the marmoset, where the male takes the baby at birth and cares for it, except for breastfeeding, until it is able to feed itself.

Compared to many other mammals, primates have relatively few young, and their offspring take a long time to develop. Most primates usually give birth to a single baby, although some species, such as dwarf lemurs, usually have twins or triplets. The length of time it takes for a primate baby to grow up depends on the species. In small prosimians, the young are often weaned after a few weeks, whereas some apes feed their offspring milk for three or four years and continue to protect them until they are six years old or more. This long childhood, like that of humans, provides plenty of time for the young primate to learn things like which foods are safe to eat and how to behave properly so they can fit into the social group.

Primates are good parents. The newborn baby clings to its mother's chest, and when it gets older, rides on her back. Sometimes fathers carry the baby too. In the social group, often the grandparents, uncles, aunts, brothers, and sisters all help look after it.

Young monkeys and apes are very much like human children. They like to make friends and play with other youngsters of about the same age. Since they can't talk, primates make friends by playing together and grooming each other. There are many benefits to play. Not only is it good exercise, but play is actually practice for real activities in later life. During play, a young primate is getting to know other primates and discovering his or her place in the social hierarchy of the group.

Grooming is a large part of primate life, and it includes grooming others as well as oneself. It is certainly about hygiene, but it is also to do with social relationships. Grooming appears to strengthen the bond between individuals and among family members.


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