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Rhesus Macaque Monkey: Lifespan, Behavior & Facts

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 rhesus macaque monkey is one you may know already. But while their faces are well-known, what do you actually know about this monkey? In this lesson you'll learn about the rhesus macaque, and then test your knowledge with a quiz.

A Familiar Face

The rhesus macaque monkey (Macaca mulatta) is one that you're likely to recognize. These Old World monkeys that are native to Asia have very cute, expressive faces and brownish-gray hair. Similar in size to small dogs, they range from 17 - 25 inches long, plus a 7 - 12 inch tail. They weigh from 9 - 27 pounds, with females being slightly smaller than males, and live to about four years old in the wild.

Rhesus macaques can do well in a variety of habitats and in fact have the second largest geographic range of all primates (humans top that list). Though native to Asia, there are a few troops or groups of rhesus macaques that have been introduced to Florida and are surviving there. They're very intelligent animals and do well both in captivity and coexisting with humans.

Rhesus macaque monkeys are social animals that live in troops
group of rhesus macaque monkeys

Because of this, and the fact that they're similar to humans both physiologically and anatomically, rhesus macaques been important in terms of medical research. Some medical advancements you can thank rhesus macaques for include vaccines for rabies and polio, HIV/AIDS management drugs, and even embryonic stem cells propagation. Rhesus macaques were also the first monkeys in space, going boldly where no one had gone before even before humans.

Behavior & Diet

Rhesus macaques are social animals, with their loud, active troops sometimes numbering up to 200 monkeys. However, smaller groups are more common in some habitat types such as forests. You know the phrase 'it takes a village'? It's true with rhesus macaques, because the social environment of a troop aids in rearing young monkeys, of which females will have one per year.

Troops themselves are female hierarchy-based. Troops are mixed, having both males and females, but the males travel from troop to troop while females remain in their same troops. Female rank is stable and is passed on from mother to daughter. Male rank is flexible, and changes over time.

Rhesus macaques have very expressive faces
juvenile rhesus macaque

Rhesus macaques use their expressive faces to communicate with other monkeys, but also body language, gestures, and a variety of vocalizations. These signals are used to communicate in times of danger, in aggressive behavior, while grooming, and even when discovering extra good food.

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