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Monkey Food Culture

May 15, 2013

Vervet monkeys usually adopt the food preferences of whatever social group they join.



Monkey see, monkey eat. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Peer pressure may influence some monkeys’ food choices. Erica van de Waal is a biologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Her team trained vervet monkeys to like corn that was dyed either pink or blue. Then some of them were transferred to groups with the other color preference. The newcomers usually changed their habits right away.

ERICA VAN DE WAAL (University of St. Andrews, Scotland):

And we found that they learned one color is bad and they adapted to the new groups, and then switched their color preference, just by looking what the others were doing.

Van de Waal says that in the wild, monkeys may do this not just to take advantage of local resources, but also to fit in socially. That’s because the only monkeys that stuck to their old diets were dominant males that took over the new group.  I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

Vervet monkeys joining new groups trained to prefer pink dyed corn rapidly start preferring pink corn, too. (University of St. Andrews)