Friday, November 27, 2009

New Exhibit At Warsaw Zoo, Poland: Cavemen!

Visitors at Warsaw Zoo in Poland are being reminded this week that humans are animals too when they walk past the "cavemen" exhibit. Two volunteers, a 24 year-old man and 18 year-old woman, dressed themselves in animal hide behind an old monkey cage. The exhibit runs till this Sunday.

Two volunteers in a former monkey cage and dressed as cavemen, are photographed by a visitor at the zoo in Warsaw, Poland, Friday, Nov. 27, 2009. The zoo has opened a week-long display where two volunteers - a man and a woman - spend time in the cage to remind visitors that humans are animals too. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
"Organizer Maria Mastalerz says the weeklong "performance" aims to attract interest in a play, "Caveman," showing in the Polish capital. But she says it also carries a message that humans today are not all that different from their prehistoric ancestors" - Associated Press.
"They are very calm and gentle. They don't bite. And they're keen to watch all the strangers passing by their home. You can try to communicate with them, or even offer them food ... a playful attempt to inspire people to think about the place of humans in the universe", said the zoo's deputy director Ewa Zbornikowska, AFP.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, Y'all

This year, The Prancing Papio is thankful for the continuing support of its readers and friends. Without you, I will be just ranting and writing into the void. I'm also thankful to Kambiz from and for inviting me to contribute to his blogs. This year is The Prancing Papio's first Thanksgiving. What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

I'd like to share some interesting anthropological articles about Thanksgiving. "Rethinking Thanksgiving",  by Vera L. Stenhouse is an interesting article about the myths and misgivings of Thanksgiving (Thanks Monkey Tales!) Also, an interview with Dr. Deborah Gewertz from Amherst College, "Who Knows: Deborah Gewertz, G. Henry Whitcomb 1874 Professor of Anthropology, on Thanksgiving". Thanksgiving is just not Thanksgiving without blaming the turkey for making you sleepy. "Thanksgiving Myth: Turkey Makes You Sleepy" from Live Science.

Hope y'all have a wonderful and tasty Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Grandmothers Taking Care Of Their Granddaughters: Japanese Macaques

Japanese researchers observed two separate cases of grandmothers taking care of their granddaughters. The catch is, these grandmothers are free-ranging Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) and the researchers think that this is the first observed behavior in nonhuman primates that would support the "Grandmother Hypothesis". The Grandmother Hypothesis posits that female's post reproductive lifespan is reflected by the reproductive success of her offspring and the survival of her grandchildren.

According to the paper published on Primates, Nakamichi et al  (2009) observed that these grandmothers, without dependent offspring, were observed taking care of their granddaughters and even suckling them. The first case was a 24 year-old grandmother who provided essential care to her 2 month-old granddaughter after her mother temporarily disappeared from the group (the author cited unknown reason for her disappearance). The second case was a 23 year-old grandmother who suckled her 14 month-old granddaughter after her mother gave birth to a younger sibling. In summary, these behavioral data indicate that healthy grandmothers without dependent offspring could contribute to the survival of their grandchildren thus supporting the Grandmother Hypothesis.

The grandmother (GM1) is retrieving her granddaughter (GD1) (a), and GD1 is holding GM1’s nipple in her mouth (b) during the period of the mother’s (M1) temporary disappearance (21 July 2008). GM1 is grooming M1 who is nursing GD1 on the first day when M1 returned to the group (28 July 2008) (c). Photo from Nakamichi et al. (2009)

Read more about the article, Old grandmothers provide essential care to their young granddaughters in a free-ranging group of Japanese monkeys (Macaca fuscata) on Primates. Also, BBC ran a story about this article, Grandmother monkeys care for baby.

"To our knowledge, there have been no reported cases in which, instead of a mother, a grandmother without dependant offspring has continuously provided essential care for the survival of her dependant grandchild, which is in accordance with the grandmother hypothesis," Dr Nakamichi and colleagues write in the journal Primates. BBC Earth News, 2009.


Nakamichi, M. Onishi, K. Yamada, K. 2009. Old grandmothers provide essential care to their young granddaughters in a free-ranging group of Japanese monkeys (Macaca fuscata). Primates Retrieved November 24, 2009, from doi: 10.1007/s10329-009-0177-7.

Walker, M. 2009. Grandmother monkeys care for baby. BBC Earth News Retrieved November 24, 2009, from

Monday, November 23, 2009

Charles Darwin: On the Origin of Species. 150th Anniversary.

 Charles Darwin, circa 1854.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth (12th February, 1809) and tomorrow marks the 150th anniversary of Darwin's publication of On the Origin of Species (24th December, 1859). Have you thought of joining The Friends of Charles Darwin?


Did you know:

This image, titled 'Man is But a Worm,' and published shortly before his death by Punch magazine, shows the great naturalist seated on God's throne, overseeing the evolution of an English gentleman out of 'chaos.' In 1881, Darwin had published an influential book on the ecology of earthworms. Photo from Tulane University.

What will you be doing tomorrow to commemorate Charles Darwin's 150th anniversary of the publication of  On the Origin of Species?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hobbits Are Indeed A Separate Species, Said Researchers.

 Researchers from Stony Brook University Medical Center in New York confirmed that the Hobbits, or Homo floresiensis, are indeed a separate "human" species instead of a population of diseases Homo sapiens. The 7th Human Evolution Symposium, Hobbits in the Haystack: Homo floresiensis and Human Evolution was held this year at Stony Brook.

A recent full-body reconstruction of LB1, the ‘little lady of Flores’, by the Parisian paleoartist Elisabeth Daynès. (©2009, S. Plailly/E. Daynès—Reconstruction Atelier Daynès Paris). Photo from The geometry of hobbits: Homo floresiensis and human evolution.

Cranial comparison between LB1 (Homo floresiensis) and modern human. Photo from

Height comparison between modern humans and Homo floresiensis. Illustration from

According to the press release, researchers William Jungers and Karen Baab used statistical analysis on the skeletal remains of LB1 (nicknamed Flo) to determine that Homo floresiensis are indeed a distinct species. A few characteristics of LB1 that makes her and her kind a separate species than modern humans.

  • LB1's cranial capacity is about 400cc, about the same size as a chimpanzee.
  • The skull and jawbone of LB1 is more primitive looking than any normal modern humans.
  • The thigh bone and shin bone of LB1are much shorter compared to modern humans including Central African pygmies, South African KhoeSan (formerly known as 'bushmen") and "negrito" pygmies from the Andaman Islands and the Philippines. Jungers and Baab believe that these are primitive retentions as opposed to island dwarfing.
  • Using a regression equation developed by Jungers, LB1 was about 3 feet, 6 inches (106cm) tall, far smaller than modern human pygmies whose adults grow to less than 4 feet, 11 inches (150cm) tall.

The nearly complete left foot of LB1 next to the right tibia (shin bone, which is ~235 mm long). The foot is relatively very long and has unusual intrinsic proportions; its footprint matches no other species (photo: W. Jungers) The geometry of hobbits: Homo floresiensis and human evolution.

Read more about the Hobbits at The geometry of hobbits: Homo floresiensis and human evolution (Free Wiley Interscience PDF).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Functions of Male Primate Coloration

Over at Beast Ape and The Bleeding Heart Baboons, Beast Ape posted an interesting blog about the functions of primate coloration as "badge of status" in males to indicate rank or status to other males or to convey information to females about the male's fitness or quality (think the peacock's train).

Friday, November 13, 2009

Name The Female Baby Sumatran Orangutan!

The Philadelphia Zoo's Sumatran orangutans, Tua and Sugi, welcomed their first baby last month. I've blogged about the announcement and press release here at Prancing Papio.

 Tua and her baby. Photo from Philadelphia Zoo.

Now the Philadelphia Zoo is giving you an opportunity to name this female orangutan baby by voting on the names available on the zoo's website. Personally, I'm partial to the name "Batu" because it's cute. Also because both her parent's names are two syllable as well. The baby orangutan debuts with her mother to the public on Thursday, Nov 12th. Click here for more photos of Tua and her baby from 6ABC.

A closeup photo of Tua and her baby. Photo from 6ABC.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Kipunji Might Have Interbred With Baboons

The kipunji (Rungwecebus kipunji) was first known to science in 2003 when it was found dead in a farmer's trap near the forest of Mount Rungwe in Tanzania. Kipunji is geographically restricted to two small populations, Tanzania's Southern Highlands and Udzungwas Mountains. These endangered forest-dwelling monkeys have a very interesting history in their genetic makeup.

The kipunji. Photo from National Geographic by Tim Davenport.

Using fecal sample from Udzungwas Mountains (the Ndundulu population) and two tissue sample from Southern Highlands population, researchers from the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) were able to reconstruct the genetic relationships between these two populations and the kipunji's closest relative (Roberts et al., 2009). They found that the Ndundulu population retains the true Rungwecebus mitochondrial genome while the Southern Highlands population has a distinct mitochondrial haplotype that are basal to the genus Papio and Rungwecebus. This suggests that the Southern Highlands population is a hybrid and might have interbred with baboons while the Ndundulu population did not. The study also suggests that Rungwecebus is a separate genus and is more closely related to Papio than to Lophocebus, Theropithecus, Cercocebus or Mandrillus.

Census shows that there are about 1,100 individuals left in the wild. Of these, only 100 of them lives in Udzungwas Mountains. Losing the population from Udzungwas Mountains means that we will lose the genetic makeup of a true Rungwecebus.

Read more on National Geographic "Africa's rarest monkey may have bred with baboons".


Davenport, TRB. Stanley, WT. Sargis, EJ. De Luca, DW. Mpunga, NE. Machaga, SJ. Olson, LE. 2006. A New Genus of African Monkey, Rungwecebus: Morphology, Ecology, and Molecular Phylogenetic. Science 312(5778) 1378 - 1381 DOI: 10.1126/science.1125631

Roberts, TE. Davenport, TRB. Hildebrandt, KBP. Jones, J. Stanley, WT. Sargis, EJ. Olson, LE. 2009. The biogeography of introgression in the critically endangered African monkey Rungwecebus kipunji. Biology Letters Retrieved November 12, 2009, from

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Contagious Yawning in Geladas

Over at Beast Ape & The Bleeding Heart Baboons blog, Beast Ape discusses about contagious yawning in geladas.

This research suggests that the yawning contagion is associated with the ability to attribute mental states to others (and possibly empathy). Among non-human mammals, contagious yawning has been demonstrated in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), stump-tailed macaques (Macaca arctoides), and domestic dogs (Canis familiaris).

Read more about that blog post here.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Photo of the day: Prospect Park's Hamadryas baboons

November's unpredictable weather always make me sick, plus the stress from studying for GRE this year is not helping either. Don't really have time to do another blog post until Sunday so I figure I'll share with you a photo of me and Pam, one of the female hamadryas baboons from The Prospect Park Zoo. She usually sits on the ledge, pressed next to the display glass, when I do my observation there. Sometimes she would actually sit behind me to hide from rowdy zoo patrons (you know, the ones that like to bang on the glass to agitate them). Or maybe she's just trying to hide from me, heh. Pam's actual name is Kobo (according to the zoo) but I gave these hamadryas a different set of names for easy identification.

Anyways, if you ever visit The Prospect Park Zoo, Pam is the female hamadryas baboon with a very short tail. Don't forget to say hi to her but PLEASE don't bang on the glass ... she hates it.

Pam looking at me, lamenting about rowdy zoo patrons.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Homosexuality: Was Darwin Wrong On Sexual Selection?

The article "The effeminate sheep and other problems with Darwinian sexual selection" by Jonah Lehrer was published in the June/July 2006 issue of SEED magazine. It's been circulating around the internet this past week after news broke that a high school teacher from Piasa, Illinois was suspended for giving his students this article to read as an optional class discussion. Soon, a Facebook group was created by students from Southwestern High School in support of their beloved teacher, Dan DeLong. The author of the article, Jonah Lehrer, also showed his support on his blog The Frontal Cortex. DeLong had since been given his job back after he publicly apologize for handing out an age inappropriate article. This whole outburst just screams homophobia to me. It is a disgrace to the country's education system because a thought provoking and queer-friendly curriculum resulted in someone being suspended. I bet none of the parents would even complain if their kids were given an article explaining the extinction of dinosaurs were due to them being late to Noah's ark.

Dinosaurs, Left Behind. Illustration from CartoonStock.

Anyway, back to the article. Joan Roughgarden, a Biology professor from Stanford University thinks that Darwin got it wrong about sexual selection. She also thinks that sexual theory is still stuck in the 19th century.

 Joan Roughgarden's book Evolution's Rainbow.

Two female bonobos having sex. Bonobos are fully bisexual, they don't really care which gender they are having sex with.

Sexual selection cannot explain homosexuality in over 450 different vertebrate species, said Roughgarden. Homosexuality, long thought to be deviant and serves no purpose biologically, is actually normal and a necessary fact of life.. Her book, Evolution's Rainbow, is an attack on Darwin's theory of sexual selection citing that the pervasiveness of homosexuality in the animal kingdom is actually adaptive and had not been weeded out by natural selection. She also said that homosexuality is a necessary side effect for getting along: a necessary feature of advanced animal communities that require communal bonds to function.

 Gay mallards Anas platyrhynchos. Photo from Wikipedia.

An example of this in the primate societies are the Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata).

Japanese macaques, an old world primate, illustrate this principle perfectly. Macaque society revolves around females, who form intricate dominance hierarchies within a given group. Males are transient. To help maintain the necessary social networks, female macaques engage in rampant lesbianism. These friendly copulations, which can last up to four days, form the bedrock of macaque society, preventing unnecessary violence and aggression. Females that sleep together will even defend each other from the unwanted advances of male macaques. In fact, behavioral scientist Paul Vasey has found that females will choose to mate with another female, as opposed to a horny male, 92.5% of the time. While this lesbianism probably decreases reproductive success for macaques in the short term, in the long run it is clearly beneficial for the species, since it fosters social stability. “Same-sex sexuality is just another way of maintaining physical intimacy,” Roughgarden says. “It’s like grooming, except we have lots of pleasure neurons in our genitals. When animals exhibit homosexual behavior, they are just using their genitals for a socially significant purpose.

Read more about Jonah Lehrer's "The effeminate sheep and other problems with Darwinian sexual selection" here.

"And Tango Makes Three". A storybook based on the real story of Silo and Roy, two gay chinstrap penguins from Central Park.

I think homosexuality in primates is an interesting yet often times a taboo topic. There should be more studies on the effect of homosexuality in primate societies. Are there differences and similarities between primate and human societies when it comes to homosexuality? I also think its about time to regard homosexuality as adaptive as opposed to maladaptive and start coming up with research to see how societies benefit from homosexuality. We already have the "Grandmother Hypothesis" so what about the "Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Family Member Hypothesis"?

Actor Rosario Dawson and her gay uncle, Frank. Poster from PFLAG.

What struck a cord for me was Roughgarden's explanation of homosexuality, “Same-sex sexuality is just another way of maintaining physical intimacy ... It’s like grooming, except we have lots of pleasure neurons in our genitals. When animals exhibit homosexual behavior, they are just using their genitals for a socially significant purpose".


Lehrer, J. 2006. The effeminate sheep and other problems with Darwinian sexual selection. SEED Retrieved November 3, 2009, from