A Primate Cousin

We've been receiving more and more nature photos and sightings from people around the world lately. Mike Boydstun shared with us this arresting portrait of a long-tailed (or crab-eating) macaque that he took at the Prang Sam Yot temple in Thailand, where these highly intelligent and adaptable Old World monkeys live in large numbers and have become a tourist attraction. 

Photo taken and shared with us by Mike Boydstun, who says, "This smart creature startled the heck out of me when it jumped on my back while I was shooting its cousin. Apparently they are more like us than we sometimes remember. The three local families are known to have skirmishes and battles from time to time."

With 23 species spread from Japan to Gibraltar (even small populations in Florida and South Carolina), macaques are the most widespread primates other than humans. They live in complex and fascinating social hierarchies. Unfortunately for them, they are so closely related to us (93% the same DNA) and so easy to breed and keep in captivity that several of their species—including this long-tailed variety and rhesus macaques, better known as rhesus monkeys—have long been used for human medical and psychological research. The term "rhesus factor" or "Rh factor" (positive or negative) used in describing human blood types comes from research on rhesus macaques. Rhesus macaques were central to Jonas Salk's development of the polio vaccine. They also have served as astronauts; rhesus macaques were sent into space by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union. 

All animal species deserve our deep respect, but macaques are among those that merit special gratitude for their involuntary sacrifices on behalf of us humans. Many thanks to Mike for capturing in his portrait a sense of how similar to us these fellow primates are. (If you're interested in learning more about macaques, one book to consider is "Macachiavellian Intelligence: How Rhesus Macaques and Humans Have Conquered the World," by Dario Maestripieri.) —Craig Neff and Pamelia Markwood