The Lion-tailed Macaques (Macaca silenus) are really a treat to watch. You can find them in the rainforests of the Western Ghats – high up in the trees. They climb up to the canopies and jump from one tree to another, biting fruits off the branches.
Endemic to the southern stretch of the majestic Ghats, the Lion-tailed Macaques (Macaca silenus) live in tropical evergreen forests. These primates like to live in the upper canopies of the trees and usually avoid the ground.
Their black-furred bodies and greyish-silver manes give them their unique appearance. But it is their tail that distinguishes them from other similar monkeys. With well-defined tufts, in the end, the tails of these macaques resemble that of a lion. And this gives them their unique name.
However, Lion-tailed Macaques have many more unique traits that make for an interesting read. In this blog, we’ll explore 10 Lion-tailed Macaque facts to enrich your understanding of these tree-dwellers. Let’s get started!
They are one of the smallest macaques
The Lion-tailed Macaques are one of the smallest of all macaque species. As a result, they are also very lightweight and elusive.
An average adult lion-tailed macaque has a length of around 15 to 24 inches from head to body. Their tails can add another 15 inches to the overall length. As such, they weigh just 2-10 kilograms or about 5 to 22 pounds. However, some macaques can also weigh up to 30 pounds.
Their lives are also not that long. They usually live up to 20 years in the forests of the Western Ghats. But macaques in captivity can live for as long as 38 years.
They tend to avoid humans
You must have seen monkeys taking a break from the jungle and coming outside your window or on the terrace. Most of the monkeys easily socialize with humans and mingle quite easily. But this is not true for lion-tailed macaques.
Unlike many other monkeys, Lion-tailed Macaques do not go near human settlements willingly. These small monkeys actively avoid human interaction as much as they can. They don’t stray away into human territory unless necessary.
And when humans tread into their territory, these primates freeze in the tree for not getting discovered. Their black-colored body camouflages them among the trees. So, whenever you visit Karnataka, Kerala, or Tamil Nadu in search of lion-tailed macaques, don’t try to disturb them. They are not going to like it.
They are very social with each other
True, the Lion-tailed Macaques do not like to come near us. But when interacting with their breed, these small-sized primates are highly social! They live together in groups.
The number of macaques in each group can range anywhere from 10 to 30 individual macaques. In fact, a group has also been recorded with 34 members! Quite a large family structure, right? Well, it’s not as familial as it seems.
Each group mostly consists of females, with just a handful of males. And only one of these males has absolute dominance over the group. Only the alpha male can mate with the females. Males can change groups if they wish
They have a secret “pocket” for storing food
The macaques like to eat lots of fruits and foliage. And their sharp canines enable them to bite through big, hard food like jackfruits. But if someone disturbs them while eating or they spot a predator, they don’t have to leave their food behind.
The lion-tailed macaques have a “pouch” inside their mouth for storing food. These pouches– called cheek pouches– lie inside their mouth, beside the lower teeth. The pouches extend deep down their throat, allowing the macaques to store sufficient food.
By storing food in cheek pouches, the macaques can take the food to safer locations, away from predators or rivals. Mother macaques also use these pouches to feed their babies safely. The macaques are not the only ones with these secret storage locations. Cheek pouches also appear in many other monkeys and other animals, such as chipmunks and hamsters.
They have nothing to do with lions
First of all, let us be clear. Lion-tailed Macaques have nothing to do with lions. They are not related to the king of the jungle in any way. Besides their tails that have a tuft at the end, the lion-tailed macaques bear no similarity with lions.
Well, yes. The macaques also have manes, just like lions. But then, there is an important difference here as well. Only male lions have manes. But in the case of macaques, both genders have them.
Many people confuse macaques for having some lion-like traits. But in reality, macaques are not half as dangerous as lions. They can get angry and attack you if you meddle in their affairs. But rest assured, they don’t eat humans.
They are highly vocal while communicating
We are not the only species to use our voices to talk with each other. The lion-tailed are highly vocal, too. Of course, they can’t be as vocal as we are. But they show extensive vocal communication.
Lion-tailed Macaques can exhibit at least 17 different vocal patterns while communicating with their friends, kids, or rivals. They give alarm calls to inform other macaques of an approaching predator. And they also give boundary calls to keep rival troops from trespassing into their territory.
Apart from vocal communications, the macaques also engage in extensive behavioral displays of anger, happiness, or discontent.
A mounting macaque wants to show its strength to its rivals. A macaque shaking a tree wants to scare off his enemy. A macaque yawning with a grimace is actually expressing its dominance. But the same macaque smacking its lips indicates a greeting.
They cannot read or write, though, which is sad.
Only the alpha male can mate with the females
The dominant male of a group of Lion-tailed Macaques is the most powerful member of the group. A group usually has one or two males other than the dominant male. But only the dominant male has the right to mate with the group’s females.
The dominant male mates with multiple females in the group. These macaques mate at any time of the year. But the frequency of mating increases during the monsoon due to the abundance of food during this time.
They are territorial animals
Lion-tailed Macaques are very territorial animals. Each group lives and forages in a pre-defined territory. And it is the job of the alpha male to protect the group and its territory.
The alpha male controls the integrity of the group and the territory. When an invader crosses the territorial boundary of the group, the alpha male gives loud cries to warn and ward off the trespasser. The male also shows its bare teeth to show strength and aggression.
But if the intruder doesn’t turn aside, the two troops– the invaders and the defenders– engage in a violent confrontation. These fights can hurt both parties. As they attack each other with their sharp, strong canines, they inflict severe injuries on each other. These injuries can breed infections, which can be very problematic.
These violent clashes show how far the lion-tailed macaques can go to defend their territorial integrity.
Little macaques share a special bond with their mother
The bond between the baby macaques and their mother is just as special in macaques as in humans. The macaques mate throughout the year. Females have a bulge near their tail when they are ready to mate. After mating with the alpha male of the group, a single baby is usually born after about six months.
The babies do not have the mane at birth and live close to their mothers. The mother macaque takes utmost care of her baby. She carries it wherever she goes, feeds it, and teaches them the lion-tailed-macaque way of life.
As they grow older, the babies start getting their mane in about two months. The young live with their mother for about a year. After a couple of years, the males stray away from the troop to make a living on their own. But the young females continue to live with their mothers.
They spread greenery wherever they go
The Lion-tailed Macaques are foragers by nature. In other words, they travel from one place to another in search of food. And as discussed earlier, they mostly eat fruits as food.
As these monkeys forage through the forests, gathering and eating fruits and flowers, they help their ecosystem thrive. Each day, these wanderers disperse several seeds of the fruits and flowers they eat. As they move through the forests, they disperse the seeds by throwing them away. Other times, they excrete the seeds as they defecate.
Over time, these seeds grow into the plants and trees that feed these macaques. This way, the lion-tailed macaques give life to the fruits and plants they eat. The macaques are important for maintaining the ecological balance of the play they inhabit. And this way, the circle completes. An impressive way to give back to nature, indeed!
A not-so-amazing fact about the Lion-tailed Macaques
The Lion-tailed Macaques are wonderful creatures. Besides having these interesting traits and behavior, they live a life of satisfaction in the woods of southern India. But lately, this rare species of Old World monkeys face many threats.
Of course, many macaques become the food of predators like snakes and other carnivores. But that is a natural cycle, not the real threat.
Every year, several macaques die by getting run down by vehicles on the road. But why do they go on the roads, you ask? Ironically, the answer is survival. As people are clearing vast patches of forestland for agriculture, the lion-tailed macaques are losing their home. As a result, they find it necessary to enter human territory to find food and shelter.
The result is unpleasant man-macaque encounters that hurt the macaques the most. Lion-tailed macaques are an endangered species.
Needless to say, these primates deserve to be free of danger and habitat fragmentation. They should be free to roam in the jungles where they truly belong. They should not die of hunger or by hunters. The lion-tailed macaques deserve love and life.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
If Lion-tailed Macaques are the smallest members of their family, which species is the largest?
The largest member of the Macaque family is the Tibetan Macaques (Macaca thibetana). These macaques are found in Tibet, China, and northwestern India, and are similar in size to the larger Gray Langur species.
Can Lion-tailed Macaques swim?
Yes, they can. While it might come as a surprise to many, Lion-tailed Macaques are excellent swimmers besides being great climbers. Swimming might not be a common part of their lifestyle, but they’ve developed this skill to protect themselves from their predators. You can count it as just another one of the Lion-tailed Macaque facts!