Barbary Macaque Monkey: Behavior & Facts

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

The Barbary macaque is a unique and fascinating monkey. In this lesson you will learn about some of its typical behaviors, as well as some interesting facts that set it apart.

The Barbary Macaque

Think about the different monkey species you've heard of, and where they live. You probably thought about South America and Asia, but what about Europe? Europe may not have come to mind because monkeys are not common there. In fact, there is only one monkey species native to Europe: the Barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus). Though their range is much more limited than it used to be, the Barbary macaque is still found in parts of Europe, especially Gibraltar, and northern Africa, above the Sahara. It is the only native primate (other than humans, of course) found in these areas.


Life in the Group

Like many other monkey species, Barbary macaques live in groups. Most often there are about 40 macaques per group, although there are groups with as many as 80 members. Females stay with their birth group, and as a result, the females in a group are all related to one another.

However, males are kicked out of their birth group when they reach maturity. This means the males in a group are not related to each other, and they are not related to the females. Behavior like this helps increase genetic diversity, or the selection of available genes within a breeding population. It reduces inbreeding, and keeps future generations healthier.

The groups are organized and have a hierarchy. Males are mostly dominant, and the male hierarchy is determined by fighting. Within the females, rank depends more on who the mother is, and mothers are dominant over their daughters. The hierarchy is also less strict among the females, and many females occupy the same rank.

Despite the hierarchy, Barbary macaques practice behaviors that bond the group together and help keep the peace. The most important of these is social grooming, when the monkeys comb through each other's fur and pick out annoying bugs.


Female macaques can breed after they are four years old, and males after they are four to seven years old. Typically they mate in the fall or winter, which means births happen in the spring and summer after a gestation period of about six months. This is no coincidence. It means babies are born during the time of year when food is most readily available, and can fend for themselves by the time winter rolls around.

Male Barbary macaques are reliable caregivers, and males of the group help raise the babies as much as the females do.

Male Barbary macaques help care for the babies along with the females
Barbary macaque


Barbary macaques are omnivores, which means they eat plant and animal products. They actually eat quite a wide variety of food, including fruit, mushrooms, leaves, lizards, and whatever crops they can find. Their diet depends to a large extent on what is available, which changes depending on the time of year.

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