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Toque Macaque: Behavior, Facts & Habitat

Instructor: Lauren Posey

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

In this lesson, you will learn about the smallest macaque species, the toque macaque. We will take a look at its habitat and behavior, as well as some interesting facts about its physical characteristics and social and family life.

No Place Like Home

What kind of animals live near you? Can they be found in other places around the world? There are some animals that only live in one specific location. These animals are known as endemic species of that area, and they cannot be found anywhere else. Islands are particularly likely to have endemic species, since the animals living there have had less opportunity to move to new locations.

One example is the toque macaque (Macaca sinica), which is endemic to the island of Sri Lanka, off the southern tip of India. Sri Lanka has several types of forested habitat, and the toque macaque can be found in most of them. This includes high and low altitude tropical forest, dry evergreen forest, and wet lowland forest. This species spends most of its time in the trees, and is active during the day.

Unfortunately, toque macaques are endangered due to habitat loss. Since they only live in Sri Lanka and cannot move, any habitat loss is especially devastating. Furthermore, they are widely viewed as pests, and native farmers often poison or shoot the macaques to protect their gardens and agricultural fields.

Toque macaques spend most of their time in trees
Toque macaque

Physical Characteristics

Toque macaques are brown and white, and they have a small patch of fur on the top of their head that looks like a little hat. That's actually where they get their name: a 'toque' is a type of small cap. This species can grow to be up to four feet long, but half or more of that is tail! They are the smallest macaque species, but they have the longest tail in relation to their body size.

Family Life

These monkeys are quite social. They live in groups of up to 40, and usually there are twice as many females as males in each group. The groups have a clear hierarchy of dominance that is affected by age and by sex. For example, the oldest males are at the top, then the younger adult males, followed by females. Infants and non-adults hold the lowest rank, though a mother's rank can affect the rank of her baby.

Roles within the group are split by sex as well. Females are completely responsible for infant care. Males have very little to do with babies, but they will break up fights between younger group members. All individuals in a group participate in social grooming. This keeps them connected to other group members. Toque macaques often stay with the same group for life, but some young males will switch to a different group.

Toque macaques participate in social grooming
Toque macaque grooming

Diet and Communication

Toque macaques are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and animals. Their main diet is fruit along with flowers and leaves. However, they eat insects, lizards, and even birds as added protein. Toque macaques have been known to raid crops as well, eating human-grown food such as rice and coconuts. During the dry season, these monkeys must make regular trips to a water source because their food does not contain the water they need.

Vocal communication is the main communication method of these monkeys. Scientists have recorded about 30 different calls. For example, toque macaques have an alarm call to let the group know there is danger, and a call for when they are playing. Females will use scent communication to let males know they are ready to mate.

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