Northern & Southern Pig-Tailed Macaques

Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

The northern and southern pigtail macaques are just two of the many species of macaque monkeys. In this lesson, you will learn what these monkeys look like, where they live, what they eat, and what some of their behaviors are.

Not Your Typical Monkey

The word 'monkey' tends to conjure up a pretty specific image in our minds. We think of a small animal with human-like features that leaps from tree to tree, using its nimble hands and a long tail. But in reality, there are many monkeys all over the world that look nothing like this! For example, a group of Old World monkeys known as the macaques. There are many different species of macaque that range in size, color, and even shape.

Two of these macaques are the northern pigtail macaque and southern pigtail macaque. The southern pigtail macaque was, until recently, considered a sub-species of the northern pigtail macaque, but is now listed as its own species. True to the name, both monkeys have a tail that sticks up in the air and is the same size and shape as that of a pig. They have wide chests and narrow waists, giving them an overall boxy shape as they walk around on all four legs.

Appearance & Habitat

Both pigtail macaques have amber colored eyes surrounded by white, and a red streak coming from the corner of the eye, almost like eyeliner. Another unique feature of these monkeys is their large upper and lower canines, which when flashed look like sharp fangs.

Pigtail macaques have very expressive faces, which they use for communication
northern pigtail macaque

The males are larger than the females, with males being about 20 - 23 inches long and females being about 15 - 19 inches. Males weigh around 12 - 26 pounds and females around 10 - 13 pounds. Pigtail macaques can live to 26 years in the wild and have lived to 35 years in captivity.

The other main difference between these two macaque species is their range. The northern pigtail macaque is found in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam. The southern pigtail macaque is found in Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. Both monkeys are mostly ground animals, but are also found in trees, and are diurnal, meaning that they are awake during the daytime.

Diet, Behavior, & Reproduction

Since their diet consists mostly of fruit, the northern and southern pigtail macaques are frugivorous animals. However, they also eat other foods such as seeds, insects and other invertebrates, leaves and stems, small nesting birds, fungus, and even dirt. Since the two pigtail macaques are native to habitats that are being destroyed for agriculture they often have to turn to human crops such as papaya and banana as food sources. This makes them 'pests' to many people, which further threatens their well-being.

The pigtail macaque has a pig-like tail, which is where it gets its name
southern pigtail macaque

Northern and southern pigtail macaques live in large social groups of a few males and many females. These groups may have as many as 80 individuals. The monkeys communicate through a wide variety of vocal calls, body language, facial gestures, and physical touch. There is a dominance hierarchy in the group, with an alpha male at the top. Female rank is determined by genetic lineage. To keep the right structure in the group, males leave when they are mature, while the females stay.

Females are sexually mature about a year earlier than males. It's very clear when females are ready to mate because their genitals swell up, and turn bright pink. A ready female will show her backside to a male to indicate her intentions, and the male responds that he is aware of this, by pushing his lips out and flattening his ears back against his head. While the prime mating season for these monkeys is between January and May, they do mate throughout the entire year. The gestation period is 6 months, only a few months shorter than humans. Female pigtail macaques have babies about once every two years, and those babies will wean from their mothers after about four to five months.

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