Macaques have a rich behavioural repertoire. Being able to recognise, interpret and respond appropriately to their communication signals (such as facial expressions, postures and vocalisations) provides a good basis for refining many aspects of their care and use.The advice of a primate behaviour specialist is recommended for helping staff and animals to interact positively within the laboratory environment. For example ethograms and advice on recording behaviour, see the Behavioural indicators of welfare section.

Click here to take our quiz on macaque behaviour.

A healthy captive environment allows macaques to spend their time engaged in a wide range of ‘natural’ behaviours. The activity budgets of wild macaques vary1, but in all studies the macaques spend the majority of their time foraging, resting, allogrooming and moving around their environment. In captivity, animals that cannot spend their time in this way are at risk of becoming bored, depressed, frustrated, aggressive and/or stressed.2 While daily patterns vary, wild macaques forage and travel most intensively in the morning and rest and allogroom throughout the afternoon.


(Data for rhesus macaques, averaged from Jaman & Huffman 2013 and Zhou et al. 2013)

Macaques have a variety of facial expressions which they use to communicate with conspecifics, composed of movements of the ears, brow, eyes and mouth from the neutral state.3 Facial expressions can be used by laboratory staff to infer the attention, intention and internal state of animals. However, the purpose of all macaque facial expressions is not yet fully understood. Expressions may be performed at different intensities in different contexts; there may be individual differences in how expressions appear; and an animal will often perform several expressions and behaviours together, as seen from the videos in this section. About one third of facial expressions are accompanied by vocalisation.4

Neutral | Affiliative | Submissive or fearful | Anxious | Agonistic or aggressive


Neutral expression

Resting facial expression, shown in calm social contexts or when resting alone. All other expressions differ from this standard facial display. Cynomolgus macaque showing neutral face


Affiliative expressions

Affiliative facial expressions are often performed together with submissive and anxious or fearful expressions, depending on the context. Rhesus macaque showing affiliative face

A cynomolgus macaque showing an affiliative face

A cynomolgus macaque showing an affiliative face, with ears and brow drawn back, eyes looking at the interactant and mouth puckered. (Michael Gumert)

Cynomolgus macaque affiliative interaction with lip-smaking

During affiliative contact, a cynomolgus macaque lip smacks to maintain peaceful contact; his companion lip smacks in return to confirm affiliation. (Michael Gumert)

Cynomolgus macaque affiliative interaction with bared teeth

In response, the macaque on the left reaffirms his peaceful intent with a bared teeth display. (Michael Gumert)









Components of the affiliative expression

Ears back from NC3Rs on Vimeo. In this video, you can clearly see components of the affiliative facial expression – eyes open and attentive, ears being moved back against the sides of the head, and tongue protrusion. (Video: MRC Centre for Macaques)


Lip smack

Lip smacking indicates peaceful intentions.5 It may be performed between any individuals intent on maintaining a peaceful relationship. Lip smacking is often performed during approach towards another macaque, or even human caregivers. For additional videos of lip smacking, see the RHVIDEO site.

Lip smacking from NC3Rs on Vimeo. In this video, the macaque signals its affiliative intention towards a known human caregiver by lip smacking with ears pulled back and brow raised.

Lip smacking and vigilance from NC3Rs on Vimeo. In this video, the macaque lip smacks to a conspecific whilst also being vigilant and chewing food from its cheek pouches. (Video: MRC Centre for Macaques)

Play face

Young macaques showing characteristic play face

Play face (Image: Michael Gumert)

Play face (Image: Claire Witham)

Play face (Image: Claire Witham)

The play face stops rough and tumble play getting out of hand. It is seen mostly in younger animals during play. The ears and brow are pulled back, the mouth is open and the top lip is pulled over the teeth.







Submissive or fearful expressions

Grimace/bared teeth

The grimace or bared teeth display signals submission and averts possible attack.6 It is performed by low-ranked individuals towards high-ranked individuals; often performed by the subordinate when approached by a dominant animal. The brow is neutral or pulled back with the ears, and the teeth are exposed. The animal performing the grimace, will look towards the interactant or may turn and look away. For additional videos of the grimace, see the RHVIDEO site.

Young cynomolgus performs bared teeth display

A young cynomolgus macaque performs a bared teeth display (Image: Michael Gumert)

A young cynomolgus macaque gives a bared teeth display with tongue protrusion

Bared teeth display with tongue protrusion in cynomolgus macaque (Image: Michael Gumert)

A subordinate macaque gives a bared teeth display to an approaching dominant

A subordinate gives a bared teeth display to an approaching dominant (Image: Gumert)

A female rhesus macaque gives a grimace as she turns away from a dominant male who has just walked past

Female rhesus grimaces as she turns from a dominant male (Image: Alexander Georgiev)









Grin 1 from NC3Rs on Vimeo. In this video, the macaque on the left grins towards a dominant animal approaching from the right.

Fear grin with squeak from NC3Rs on Vimeo. In this video, a female macaque grins at a group member with a squeak vocalisation. (Video: MRC Centre for Macaques)


Anxious expressions

Tense mouth

This expression signals fear and/or alarm. It may be seen in response to aggressive conspecifics, humans, startling stimuli or predators. For videos of tense mouth, see the RHVIDEO site.


Cynomolgus macaque yawning

(Image: Michael Gumert)

Exaggerated yawning with full display of teeth is a threat behaviour or indicative of tension.7 Yawning without full display of teeth may simply be an indication of tiredness. Often shown during periods of uncertainty and tension such as unstable hierarchy.





Threat yawn from NC3Rs on Vimeo. In this video, the macaque yawns and stares at the camera operator, indicating tension. (Video: MRC Centre for Macaques)

Yawn from NC3Rs on Vimeo. This yawn is probably a ‘true’ yawn associated with tiredness, since the animal is relaxed and it’s attention is not fixed on any conspecifics. (Video: MRC Centre for Macaques)

Chin up

A macaque sits with chin up, possibly monitoring events from a sideways position (Alexander Georgiev)

A macaque sits with chin up, possibly monitoring events from a sideways position (Alexander Georgiev)

Chin up is an avoidant posture that allows covert monitoring of events in the environment while avoiding making eye contact with other animals. It is seen in situations of uncertainty or when an animal has reduced escape options. Males may also approach females with chin up when soliciting for sexual behaviour.








Agonistic or aggressive expressions

During agonistic or aggressive expressions, typically the ears are forward or flapping (indicating intense interest), the brow is lowered or neutral, with eyes open and staring at the interactant, and the mouth is open (the teeth may or may not be exposed). The head may be lowered with both head and body pulled forward.

Open mouth stare

The open mouth stare is used to threaten other individuals. It is seen during tension between group members, and is often performed towards unwelcome humans.

Cynomolgus macaque staring

Cynomolgus macaque stare (Image: Michael Gumert)

Cynomolgus macaque open mouth stare

Open mouth stare (Image: Michael Gumert)

Rhesus macaque open mouth threat face

Open mouth stare (Image: Emily Bethell)

Intense open mouth stare (Image: Emily Bethell)

Intense open mouth stare (Image: Emily Bethell)








Open mouth threat from NC3Rs on Vimeo. A mother suckling her infant threatens the camera operator with an open mouth stare expression. (Video: MRC Centre for Macaques)

Open mouth grunt from NC3Rs on Vimeo. Examples of two different responses to an intruder. In this video, the macaque on the left lowers its brow, flaps its ears, and moves away – signs of tension or annoyance. The younger, bolder animal on the right comes forward and shows an open mouth stare expression, before also moving away from the camera operator.


Piloerection in a male rhesus macaque

Piloerection in a male rhesus macaque (Image: MRC Centre for Macaques)

Piloerection in a cynomolgus macaque

Piloerection in a cynomolgus macaque (Image: Michael Gumert)

Piloerection during aggressive interaction

Piloerection during aggressive interaction (Image: Michael Gumert)

Piloerection8 is a reflex arousal response in which the macaque’s hair stands up, making it look bigger, triggered by negative situations of extreme fear or anger. Piloerection typically occurs in highly arousing situations, such as the appearance of predators, humans or aggressive conspecifics.






Head-cocking9 is thought to help non-human primates observe objects from different angles, allowing them to encode the parameters during learning.10 It is often observed in youngsters when viewing novel objects.


Cynomolgus macaque crouching

Cynomolgus macaque crouching, with bared teeth (Image: Michael Gumert)

Cynomolgus macaques crouching before an aggressive encounter

Crouching before an aggressive encounter (Image: Michael Gumert)

Crouch signals a readiness for action. It is seen in situations causing fear, such as the presence of predators or aversive stimuli. Crouching can also be seen before and after aggressive encounters with conspecifics.11 Crouching may be accompanied by pant threats, screams or barks depending on the context (see the Vocalisations tab). For videos of crouching, see the RHVIDEO site.






Freezing is a fear response to predators, aversive stimuli or unexpected noise. For videos of freezing, see the RHVIDEO site.

Tail up

Tail up posture in rhesus macaque (Image: Prabal Sarkar)

Tail up posture in rhesus macaque (Image: Prabal Sarkar)

An erect tail signals alertness and is often seen in animals exerting their dominance over conspecifics. It also accompanies sexual presentations.




Tail wave

Tail wave is seen in affiliative contexts, such as females playing with infants. The tail waves from side to side, with small or large movements.


Postures are also important in the recognition of agonistic/aggressive and affiliative behaviours (see the Expressions and Social behaviour tabs above).

Postures of rhesus macaques, reproduced from Sade 1973

Postures of rhesus macaques (Sade 1973)

A to B – Movement from a high to a low position, indicating threat. An attack by a confident animal may begin with a bobbing of the head accompanied by an open mouth directed towards the victim, grade into a lunging of the shoulders toward the victim, and finally become a charge ending when the dominant individual bites the victim.
C and D – Examples of subordinate posturing. The victim of an attack may attempt to present its hind quarters and grimacing face towards the attacker simultaneously, so that the animal’s body is displayed laterally to the attacker.
E to F – Upward jerking of the head, seen during non-hostile, non-fearful encounters. The upward jerking display may frequently be accompanied by protrusion and smacking of the lips.
G – Neutral sitting posture.
H – One individual of a wrestling pair. Rotation of the head and torso is often seen during wrestling play behaviour.
I to L – Oblique bobbing movements of a querying animal, often directed towards other monkeys, humans or novel objects. The open mouth face of the monkey in figure K indicates an aggressive component.

(Adapted from Sade 1973) 

Macaques have a wide repertoire of vocalisations used in a variety of social contexts.

Rhesus macaques | Cynomolgus macaques


Vocalisations of rhesus macaques


Affiliative vocalisations

These vocalisations signal peaceful intentions and help maintain contact with group members. They are used when approaching higher-ranked animals and infants, approaching to groom another animal, and during group movements.12 They often accompany lip smacking (see the Expressions tab).


Around 400 ms in duration, coos are characterised by their harmonic structure. They are relatively quiet calls, with a variation on an OOOH sound.

Spectogram for coo vocalisation

Spectogram for coo vocalisation







Around 200 ms in duration, grunts are characterised by their noisy, time modulated structure.

Spectogram for grunt vocalisation

Spectogram for grunt vocalisation







Girneys are high-pitched, soft, sing-song vocalisations used by adult female rhesus macaques to establish friendly contact with infants which are not their own offspring.13


Threatening vocalisations

These vocalisations are used to signify dominance to lower ranking animals, to enhance visual signals during aggressive, threat displays (see the Expressions tab above), and to scare away potential threats, such as predators.14


Often the animal will have its head down and ears back, suggesting a degree of fear within the threatening situation.15



Around 300 ms in duration, pant threats are characterised by their noisy and threatening sounding structure. They are often seen with head raised and ears forward, suggesting increased intention to attack. 

Spectogram for pant threat vocalisation

Spectogram for pant threat vocalisation








Submissive or alarm vocalisations

These vocalisations may be involuntarily produced as an immediate reaction to surprise, in response to pain or fear, or to appease aggressors. They are given to aggressive or dominant animals, potential threats, and/or alarming or painful stimuli.

Squeak / Alarm call

Often heard in conjunction with grimace (see the Expressions tab), crouch (see the Postures tab) and retreat.16

Screech, scream and squeal

Loud, high pitched calls, often heard in conjunction with grimace (see the Expressions tab above), crouch (see the Postures tab above) and retreat.



Other vocalisations

Warble, harmonic arch and chirp

Around 500 ms in duration, warbles, harmonic arches and chirps are characterised by their harmonic and contoured frequencies that increase toward the middle or end of the call. They are possible food calls, given when high-quality, rare food items are found. 

Spectogram for harmonic arch vocalisation

Spectogram for harmonic arch vocalisation







Geckers area made by infants during weaning, when mothers refuse attempts to nurse.17

Copulation call

In macaques, both males and females can produce vocalisations during or immediately following the completion of copulation. These are more common in cynomolgus macaques than in rhesus macaques.18


Vocalisations of cynomolgus macaques

(After Palombit 1992)

Call Description / acoustic structure Context
Kra19 Extremely common call, occurring in two forms. Kra-(c) comprises three or four more or less discrete sound pulses that appear on sonograms as vertical “columns”. Harsh, rasping quality.20 Appears to act as mild form of threat, but occurs in a wide variety of contexts, including agonistic interactions.
Kra-(a) comprises two to four separate sound pulses, similar in duration to kra-(c) but higher in frequency (pitch). Appears to function as an alert signal, by attracting the attention of nearby monkeys to modifications in the environment. Often accompany alarm calling. Can also occur during agonistic interactions.
Alarm Alarm 1 is a modification of the basic kra-(c) call, comprising three to five sound pulses. Both types of alarm calls are performed repetitively and quite loudly by noticeably aroused and highly agitated macaques (e.g. in the presence of predators)
Alarm 2 sounds more tonal or “chirp-like” to humans than the alarm 1 call, probably because call energy is organized into five to eight narrow, horizontal “bands”.
Harr Moderately loud call composed of five to seven sound pulses, and longer than alarm 1 call. The pulse units of the harr are not delivered plosively, hence it sounds ‘growl-like’ to humans. Emitted primarily by juvenile macaques. Usually performed when threatened by another monkey during agonistic interactions that may or may not involve physical contact (similar to the “geckering screech” of rhesus macaques)21. Juveniles playing with each other perform harr calls, especially as play becomes rambunctious and grades into aggression.
Bark Kra calls grade into barks, which vary in shrillness depending on the amount of energy in the higher-frequency range. Associated with agonistic interactions, particularly those involving adult males. Vocal threat via barking sometimes substitutes for aggressive chasing or physical contact. Bark-kras occur in a much wider variety of contexts than barks, including intra-group agonism.
Krahoo Consists of an initial, broadband and characteristically “harsh” segment (the “kra”) followed by a somewhat shorter “trailing off” of call energy in the lower frequencies (the “hoo”). The loudest call in the cynomolgus macaque repertoire. Usually performed in series with pauses in between. Kra component often accompanied by rhythmic, abrupt jerking of the head and upper body. Performed by adult males only. Possibly functions in inter-group spacing.
Wraggh Comprises both tonal and harsh components, increasing in amplitude. Performed by both sexes and all ages when agitated. Isolated, solitary macaques perform Wraggh especially frequently, so this call may function in re-establishing social/spatial relations.
Scream Loud, usually plosive vocal discharges whose total energy is distributed over a wide range of frequencies between 1 and 16 kHz. The acoustic structure varies, as with rhesus macaques.22 Performed by both sexes and all ages engaged in agonistic interactions.
Khreeet screech The khreeet screech is a loud, partially tonal scream, increasing then decreasing in frequency, similar to the “arched scream” or “screech” of rhesus macaques.23. Often occurs in long, repetitive series with whimper calls. Given by distressed and agitated young macaques (juveniles and possibly older infants) in both agonistic and non-agonistic contexts.
Squeal Low-amplitude, high-pitched calls composed of multiple units of often dissimilar form and that characteristically experience marked changes in pitch Relative rare calls. Performed by young macaques only.
Copulation calls Females give a staccato “ohoh” copulation call. A weak high-pitched bleep” is also performed infrequently by males during copulations.24 Copulation
Coo Relatively quiet, tonal calls. Given when calm and not agitated.
Whimper A specific, consistently heard patterning of coo call units analogous to the combining of barks to form the “pant threat” of rhesus macaques.25 Contains a distinctive, pronounced upward modulation in frequency that achieves its highest peak in the last two thirds of the call. Performed by distressed infant or adolescent macaques, such as young juveniles left behind by their mothers. Young monkeys engaged in tantrum behaviour also perform these calls. May be accompanied by screams or khreeet screeches, to which mothers usually respond with retrieval.


Macaques are social primates and interactions with conspecifics are an important part of their daily lives. Social behaviour varies with sex, age, reproductive status and dominance rank.26

Affiliative | Sexual Agonistic and aggressive | Submissive and fearful


Affiliative behaviours

For affiliative facial displays and vocalisations, see the Expressions and Vocalisations tabs above.


One animal picks through the hair of another with hands or teeth, removing skin, dirt or ticks.27 Allo-grooming is used to develop and maintain bonds between individuals. Females form stable life-long attachments, maintained through grooming, touch and close proximity.28 Males groom females more during the mating season.29 Macaques may groom after conflicts to console each other or repair damaged relationships.30 Both giving and receiving grooming releases B-endorphins; after conflict situations, these may reduce pain from injury and relieve stress more quickly.31

Female grooms male from NC3Rs on Vimeo. Allogrooming of the male’s back by a female.

Grooming at night from NC3Rs on Vimeo. Female rhesus macaque grooms its group mate whilst resting together at night. (Video: Claire Witham)

Affiliative contact

Rhesus macaques sleeping in close contact

Rhesus macaques sleeping in close contact (Alexander Georgiev)

Macaques often rest and sleep huddled in family groups; they will also huddle when under threat. In behavioural studies, affiliation is often measured as proximity (e.g. within an arm’s reach of each other), because macaques that are friendly with each other will remain close, to maintain bonds and provide assistance if needed. The neuromodulators oxytocin and serotonin are implicated in development and maintenance of social behaviours such as approach and close contact.32 These contribute to a sense of security from being close to conspecifics and have health benefits, such as maintaining low heart rate.





Present for grooming

An animal will approach or reposition itself in front of another, presenting an area of the body to be groomed. Typically seen during peaceful contexts, or by individuals seeking comfort after a fight.

Present for grooming from NC3Rs on Vimeo. In this video, a macaque presents its tail for grooming by another group member. (Video: MRC Centre for Macaques)


Mostly seen in infants, juveniles and adolescents. Play develops social bonds and motor-coordination skills, allowing younger animals to develop and assess their relative strength to peers. There are sex differences in play: females engage in more play with infants and older females; males engage in more rough-and-tumble play.33 Adult males may engage older juveniles in play.34

Infants playing 1 from NC3Rs on Vimeo. Two infant rhesus macaques, playing on the forest floor.

Solitary play from NC3Rs on Vimeo. In this video, a young cynomolgus macaque plays by himself.

Infant care and handling

Infant care is performed mainly by nursing mothers during the birthing season. However, other group members are very interested in new infants. Looking after the infants of higher ranking females, either by a low-ranking female or male, will help improve their standing with the mother. The mother-infant bond in macaques is strong, and mediated by oxytocin released during birth and lactation throughout the first year of life.35 It is important that infants are not removed from the mother before natural weaning has occurred, as this will lead to social attachment problems later in life.36

Male taking care of infant from NC3Rs on Vimeo. In this video, a large adult male cynomolgus macaque cradles an infant. (Video: BFC)


Sexual behaviours

Genital present

Male cynomolgus macaque inspects female

Male cynomolgus macaque inspects female (Image: Michael Gumert)

When in oestrous and proceptive, a female will present her rump to the male to solicit copulation.37 Outside of mating, both males and females may present their rump as a signal of subordination.38







Mount and copulate

Reproductive behaviours are triggered by seasonal changes in sex hormones (e.g. oestrogen, testosterone). These may be accompanied by reddening of sexual skin on the face, genitals and rump. Mating is highly seasonal in the wild.39 In captivity, mating seasons may be less pronounced.

Rhesus macaque copulation from NC3Rs on Vimeo. (Video: Alexander Georgiev)


Agonistic and aggressive behaviours

See also the Postures tab above.


Displacement most often occurs during competition for valued resources such as food, mates, shelter and good resting places. The dominant animal approaches a subordinate, who then moves away to avoid potential conflict. Dominant animals exert their dominance in subtle ways, which helps to conserve energy. In captivity, distributing resources so that they cannot be monopolised by dominant animals reduces stress for subordinates.

Displacement by alpha male from NC3Rs on Vimeo.

Displacement of older animal from NC3Rs on Vimeo. (Video: MRC Centre for Macaques)

Displacement from NC3Rs on Vimeo.

Aggressive approach

Approaching with staring face and an aggressive stance, including lunging with the tail up, are signs of dominance. Aggressive approach is typically performed by a dominant animal towards a subordinate.

Approach from NC3Rs on Vimeo. In this video, a dominant animal approaches a subordinate with high posture and tail up; the subordinate then runs away.


Dominant animals will chase lower ranked animals away from resources where there is high competition, and use aggression to gain access.


Chase into the sea from NC3Rs on Vimeo. Rhesus macaques on Cayo Santiago, showing low ranked animals being chased into the sea.

Slap ground

Threat action, often accompanied by open mouth stare. For videos of slap ground, see the RHVIDEO site.


Threat action

Big male foraging from NC3Rs on Vimeo. In this video, the alpha male lunges at members of his group in order to move them away from food he wishes to take for himself. (Video: BFC)

Branch shake

Size and aggression display to drive away potential threats. Most frequently given by males in response to other males, humans or perceived threats. In captivity, macaques will sometimes shake the home cage structure.40

Shaking platform from NC3Rs on Vimeo. An adult male rhesus macaque shakes a resting platform is a display of strength. (Video: MRC Centre for Macaques)

Dominant mount

An animal may exert its dominance over another by mounting it. Dominant mounting often occurs during tense situations, as dominant animals seek to re-affirm the hierarchy.

Push, Grab, Fight/Wrestle, Bite, Hit

Physical contact behaviours which can result in injury only occur when aggressive interactions cannot settled by non-contact means.

Push from NC3Rs on Vimeo. In this video, a rhesus macaque female playing with water in a pool repeatedly pushes away a smaller member of the group.

Aggression over food from NC3Rs on Vimeo. The macaque on the left attempts to grab food from the feeding animal on the right. (Video: MRC Centre for Macaques)

Flighting cynomolgus macaque males

Flighting cynomolgus macaque males (Image: Michael Gumert)









Threat action

Staring from NC3Rs on Vimeo. Rhesus macaques resting together on a raised platform begin to stare at the camera operator. (Video: MRC Centre for Macaques)


Submissive and fearful behaviours

For submissive facial displays and vocalisations, see the Expressions and Vocalisations tabs above.


Subordinates will avoid or move away from dominant or aggressive animals, to avoid physical contact which may result in injury.

Rump present

Rump present indicates submission, performed by subordinates towards dominants.41 Females may also present their rump to males to solicit copulation.

Lean away

During potentially threatening social situations, macaques may lean away from a conspecific to avoid physical contact which may result in injury. For video of lean away, see the RHVIDEO site.

Look away

Look away from NC3Rs on Vimeo. A macaque turns its back to hide its face from another animal. Dominant mount is also seen in this video.


Macaque fleeing from an aggressor

Foremost animal flees from an aggressor (Image: Michael Gumert)

Flee is a fear response in which a macaque runs away from a perceived threat. Seen during aggressive encounters, in the presence of predators, and when surprised.42








Cynomolgus macaques during an aggressive encounter

Freeze during an aggressive encounter (Image: Michael Gumert)

Freeze is a response in which a macaque stops all activity and remains still while assessing threat. Seen during aggressive encounters, in the presence of predators, and when surprised.


Macaques are highly food motivated. In the wild they spend 20-40% of their day foraging for food, with variance between species and seasons.43 In captivity, macaques will work harder to obtain preferred foods; they also value rewards that are hard to obtain.

Macaque breaking open an oyster

Cynomolgus macaque using stone tool to open oyster embedded on rock (Image: Michael Gumert)

This macaque on Cayo has learned to crack open coconuts on a concrete jetty (Image: Alexander Georgiev)

Rhesus macaque cracking open coconuts on a concrete jetty (Image: Alexander Georgiev)

Rhesus macaque foraging in deep litter

Juvenile rhesus macaque foraging in deep litter, with full cheek pouches (Image: MRC Centre for Macaques)

Feeding competition in a large group of rhesus macaques (Image: Alexander Georgiev)

Feeding competition in a large group of rhesus macaques (Image: Alexander Georgiev)

Juvenile macaque feeding on seaweed (Image: Alexander Georgiev)

Juvenile rhesus macaque feeding on fresh seaweed (Image: Alexander Georgiev)









Foraging on forest floor from NC3Rs on Vimeo. These cynomolgus macaques foraging on the forest floor on Tinjil Island, Indonesia, call to each other to maintain peaceful contact.

Foraging and vigilance from NC3Rs on Vimeo. These rhesus macaques foraging for small seeds and grains within the wood shavings continually monitor their surroundings. Note their position either side of the wooden visual barrier. (Video: MRC Centre for Macaques)


In the wild, over 20% of the day is spent moving between foraging and resting sites and approaching and avoiding other macaques.44 Macaques are opportunists that have adapted to live in a greater range of habitats than any other primate except man. Daily path length varies from 1-3.5 km depending on the habitat.45


Self-grooming (also called auto-grooming) aids an animal in maintaining its own health, without relying on a conspecific. Excessive self-grooming or scratching is a sign of underlying stress (see Behavioural signs of poor welfare). Grooming removes parasites and dirt or attends to wounds.



Self grooming from NC3Rs on Vimeo.

Inactive/sleepingMacaque resting on shelf

Wild macaques rest for around 17-26% of the day, with some seasonal variances.46 It is important to allow macaques time to rest, and to not continually stimulate them in captivity. Macaques rest after periods of activity such as foraging and socialising.



Resting contact call from NC3Rs on Vimeo. These cynomolgus macaques are resting in the trees. The macaque on the right makes a coo call in response to a coo from another group member.

Resting from NC3Rs on Vimeo. (Video: MRC Centre for Macaques)


Being alert in social situations prepares an animal to move away quickly or towards something. It also aids in making them look larger and more threatening, and can allow for a better view of conspecifics, humans, or the surrounding environment.

Foraging and standing alert from NC3Rs on Vimeo. (Video: MRC Centre for Macaques)


Vigilance helps macaques to avoid predators and keep an eye on the activity of conspecifics and other animals. It is often noticeable in foraging and resting animals.

Vigilant while feeding from NC3Rs on Vimeo.

Pay attention from NC3Rs on Vimeo. Watch what happens to one of these macaques whose attention is solely focused on grooming the infant.

Swimming and diving

Swimming and diving have multiple purposes in macaques. They engage in these activities for locomotion, play and access to food across bodies of water, as well as for foraging underwater.47 Macaques can swim from birth48 and will enjoy playing and swimming in water if provided with the opportunity in captivity (see the Sensory tab under Enrichment).

Dive bomb from NC3Rs on Vimeo.

Object handling, solitary play and tool use

Stone handling may enhance long-term neural and cognitive development in younger macaques, and maintain or repair neural pathways in older macaques.49 Cynomolgus macaques have been observed using stone tools to open bivalves, nuts and sea snails50, and to wash and rub clean certain foods, including potatoes and roots; they will also peel sweet potatoes.51 In impoverished captive conditions, a desire to manipulate objects may be manifested in manipulation of the cage fixings.

Stone handling from NC3Rs on Vimeo. (Video: Michael Gumert)

Teeth flossing from NC3Rs on Vimeo. (Video: Michael Gumert)


Abnormal behaviours in macaques can be qualitatively abnormal (those that occur in captivity but not in natural settings, such as stereotypies) or quantitatively abnormal (those that occur more/less often in captivity than in nature, such as excessive grooming, hair plucking or scratching).52 It is important to recognize that inactivity (doing nothing) may also be an abnormal behaviour.

Information on using abnormal behaviours to assess welfare, and preventing abnormal behaviour, is given in the Behavioural indicators section.

Hair plucking from NC3Rs on Vimeo. In this video, a cynomolgus macaque can be seen plucking and ingesting its hair.



Macaques diets are highly varied:

  • Rhesus macaques eat fruits, young and mature leaves, stems, seeds, flowers, petioles, bark and roots of over 75 different plant species.53
  • Cynomolgus macaques are predominantly frugivorous (fruit accounts for 67%-82% of their diet),54 but also feed on other plant parts. Foraging is typically conducted below 20 m (65.6 ft); usually around 12 m (39.4 ft) in the lower canopy, understory, and on the ground.55 At mangroves they have also been seen to consume bivalves, shrimp and octopus.56
  • Both species feed opportunistically on grass, clay, mushrooms, invertebrates, eggs, crabs, and small vertebrates such as lizards, frogs, birds and fish.57

Non-exhaustive list of plant species and their component parts eaten by rhesus macaques

(Adapted from Zhou et al. 2014)

Plant Plant parts eaten
Fruit Stems Young leaves Mature leaves
Aristolochia longgangensis Dutchman’s pipe, Pipevine, Birthwort F
Capparis cahtohiesis YL  ML
Carvota ochlandra Chinese fishtail palm F YL  
Clausena anisum Anis (Philippines) F    
Clausena emarginata Powderpuff plant, Cat’s tail F YL ML
Cuscuta chinensis Cuscuta, Chinese dodder S    
Dracontomelon duperreanum Yanmin F YL  
Embelia scandens Mez   YL ML
Ficus gibbosa Fig F YL ML
Ficus glaberrima Fig F   ML
Ficus macrocarpa Curtain fig, Chinese banyan, Indian laurel F YL ML
Ficus obscura Fig, Appolas F    
Indocalamus calcicolus Bamboo   YL  
Iondes ovalis F YL ML
Pithecellobium clypearia Greater grasshopper tree   YL ML
Pothos repens F YL
Polygonum chinense Chinese knotweed F
Pueraria thunbergiana Kudzu, Japanese arrowroot   S YL ML
Spondia lakonensis F   YL  
Urobotrya latisquama Hiepko F   YL ML

Diet composition of cynomolgus macaques

(Adapted from Brotcorne 2014)

Location Origin of food (%) Proportion (%) of food categories in the diet
Fruit Leaves Flowers Animal matter Other
Malaysia58 Natural 52.4 19 5.4 23.2
Singapore59 Natural (86) and anthropogenic (14) 44 8 7 –  41 
Singapore60 Natural (51) and anthropogenic (49) 20.9 21 6.3  –  51.8
Natural (74) and anthropogenic (26) 44.8 19.6 9.7 28.3
Kalimantan, Borneo61 Natural 66.7 17.2 8.9  4.1 3.1 
Kalimantan. Borneo62 Natural 87 4
Bali – Ubud63 Natural (48) and anthropogenic (52) 32 34 29
Bali – Ubud64 Natural (30) and anthropogenic (70) 25.7 14.7  7.5 52.1 
Bali – TNBB65 Natural (89) and anthropogenic (11) 60 21 3 16
Bali – Uluwatu66 Natural (52) and anthropogenic (48) 32 19 14 35
Vietnam67 Natural (75) and anthropogenic (25) 15 20 35 29 
Mauritius68 Natural and anthropogenic 42.2 30.8 7 2.4 17.6

Examples of food species consumed by Burmese cynomolgus macaques

(Reproduced with permission from Gumert & Malaivijitnond 2012)

Food species consumed by Burmese cynomolgus macaques

























A Crown conch (Pugilina cochlidium), B dog conch (Laevistrombus canarium), C polished nerite (Nerita polita), D lined nerite (N. lineata), E miter (Mitra scutulata), F spider conch (Lambis lambis), G nerite snails skating on rocky shore, H Midas ear crassidula (Ellobium aurismidae), I firebrand murex (Chicoreus torrefactus), J ox-palate nerite (N. albicilla), K chameleon nerite (N. chamaeleon), L toothed-lip snail (Mondonta labio), M drill (Thais rufotincta), N drill (T. bitubercularis), O drills on rocky shore feeding on barnacles, P swimming crab (Thalamita sp.), Q sally light-foot (Grapsus albolineatus), R orange mud crab (Scylla olivacea), S thunder crab (Myomenippe hardwickii), T sea almonds (Terminalia catappa) cracked on the rocky shores, U a stone axe hammer left at a rock oyster bed (Saccostrea cucullata), V sea almonds fruiting, W tidal boundary of a rock oyster colony, X pandan fruit carpel (Pandanus tectorius), Y cracked pandan fruit carpel, Z small cluster of rock oysters, AA baby clam (Marcia marmorata), BB forked Venus (Gafrarium divaricatum), CC flavum heart cockle (Vasticardium flavum), DD raywheeled limpet (Cellana radiata), and EE gecko (Hemidactylus sp.).



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