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Food acquisition on arboreal substrates by the grey mouse lemur: implication for primate grasping evolution


  • Editor: Virginia Hayssen


The use of the hand in food grasping is a shared characteristic of primates. However, the factors involved in the elaboration of this function remain unclear. Grasping hands may have evolved in an arboreal habitat with narrow branches. Interestingly, grasping may also have an association with different types of feeding such as insect predation, fruit and flower exploitation, or both. No study has tested the importance of substrate diameter and food properties on the use of the hand in food grasping. Yet, both of these parameters likely impose important selective pressures on the origin and evolution of manual grasping strategies in the context of food acquisition. Here, we quantified whether (1) substrate diameter (narrow, wide) and (2) food properties (static, slow moving, fast moving) influence food grasping in a small primate, Microcebus murinus. Our results show that narrow substrates increase the use of hands in prey grasping. The mouth is preferentially used to grasp static food (banana), whereas the hands are preferred to grasp moving prey (mealworm and cricket) regardless of the substrate. Thus, the narrow branch niche may be an important selective pressure on the emergence of manual food grasping in primates, but predation likely also played a key role.