Why do monkeys bite their babies?

Answered by Tom Adger

Monkeys biting their babies is a behavior that can be observed in some rhesus macaque societies. This behavior occurs when a mother monkey refuses to give in to her baby’s demands, particularly when the baby is crying and wants to nurse. It may seem harsh or even cruel, but understanding the reasons behind this behavior can shed some light on why it occurs.

In rhesus macaque societies, dominance hierarchies play a crucial role in maintaining social order. Adult monkeys establish their rank within the group, and this hierarchy determines their access to resources such as food, mates, and social support. Within these hierarchies, mothers hold a high position due to their ability to provide for their offspring.

When a baby monkey cries, it is essentially demanding attention and resources from its mother. In most cases, the mother will respond by nursing and caring for the baby. However, there are instances where the mother may choose not to give in to the baby’s demands. This can happen for various reasons, such as the mother being physically unable to nurse at that moment or wanting to teach the baby some independence.

When a mother refuses to give in to her baby’s demands, it can trigger a response from other monkeys in the group. This response is often in the form of aggression, including smacking and biting the baby. This may seem counterintuitive, but it serves a purpose within the social dynamics of the group.

By biting the baby, the other monkeys are essentially reinforcing the dominance hierarchy. They are reminding the baby that it is not entitled to immediate gratification and that it must respect the social order. This behavior helps maintain stability within the group, as it prevents any individual from challenging the authority of the dominant individuals, including the mothers.

It is important to note that this behavior is specific to rhesus macaque societies and may not be observed in all monkey species. Each species has its own unique social dynamics, and the reasons behind their behaviors may vary. Therefore, it is crucial to consider the context and specific species when trying to understand why monkeys exhibit certain behaviors.

Monkeys biting their babies in rhesus macaque societies is a behavior that serves to reinforce the dominance hierarchy within the group. When a mother refuses to give in to her baby’s demands, it can trigger aggression from other monkeys as a way to maintain social order. While it may seem harsh, this behavior is a result of the complex social dynamics within monkey societies.