Age-specific functions of Stone Handling, a solitary-object play behavior, in Japanese Macaques (Macaca fuscata)

Authors

  • Charmalie A.D. Nahallage,

    1. Section of Ecology, Department of Ecology and Social Behavior, Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University, Inuyama, Aichi, Japan
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Michael A. Huffman

    Corresponding author
    1. Section of Ecology, Department of Ecology and Social Behavior, Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University, Inuyama, Aichi, Japan
    • Section of Ecology, Department of Ecology and Social Behavior, Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University, 41-2 Kanrin, Inuyama, Aichi 484-8506, Japan
    Search for more papers by this author

Abstract

Stone handling (SH) in Japanese macaques, a form of solitary-object play, is newly acquired only by young individuals, and is the first example of a directly nonadaptive behavior that is maintained as a behavioral tradition within free-ranging provisioned social troops. We report here the first systematic investigation of this behavior in a stable captive social troop, the Takahama troop, which is housed in an outdoor enclosure of the Primate Research Institute (PRI), Kyoto University, Japan. This study was conducted to evaluate relevant competing hypotheses regarding the function of object play (e.g., misdirected foraging behavior and motor training) to explain the proximal causes and ultimate function(s) of SH. The “misdirected foraging behavior” hypothesis can be ruled out because of the lack of a clear temporal relationship between feeding and the occurrence of SH in any age class. Age-related differences in SH performance and behavioral patterns were observed, suggesting possible differences in the immediate cause and ultimate function between young and adults. Young individuals engaged in frequent bouts of short duration, involving locomotion and vigorous body actions throughout the day, which is typical for play by young in general. This pattern of behavior is consistent with the motor training hypothesis, which states that play occurs during the development of motor and perceptual skills and is thus potentially critical for neural and cognitive development. This practice is continued by those who acquire it at an early age, with adults engaging in significantly fewer but longer bouts that involve more stationary, complex manipulative patterns, almost exclusively in the late afternoon. We propose that for adults, at the proximate level SH is psychologically relaxing, but ultimately functions to maintain and regenerate neural pathways, and potentially helps to slow down the deterioration of cognitive function associated with advanced age in long-lived provisioned and captive macaques. Am. J. Primatol. 69:1–15, 2007.© 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Ancillary