Food or threat? Wild capuchin monkeys (Sapajus libidinosus) as both predators and prey of snakes

Snakes present a hazard to primates, both as active predators and by defensive envenomation. This risk might have been a selective pressure on the evolution of primate visual and cognitive systems, leading to several behavioral traits present in human and non-human primates, such as the ability to quickly learn to fear snakes. Primates seldom prey on snakes, and humans are one of the few primate species that do. We report here another case, the wild capuchin monkey (Sapajus libidinosus), which preys on snakes. We hypothesized that capuchin monkeys, due to their behavioral plasticity, and cognitive and visual skills, would be capable of discriminating dangerous and non-dangerous snakes and behave accordingly. We recorded the behavioral patterns exhibited toward snakes in two populations of S. libidinosus living 320 km apart in Piauí, Brazil. As expected, capuchins have a fear reaction to dangerous snakes (usually venomous or constricting snakes), presenting mobbing behavior toward them. In contrast, they hunt and consume non-dangerous snakes without presenting the fear response. Our findings support the tested hypothesis that S. libidinosus are capable of differentiating snakes by level of danger: on the one hand they protect themselves from dangerous snakes, on the other hand they take opportunities to prey on non-dangerous snakes. Since capuchins and humans are both predators and prey of snakes, further studies of this complex relationship may shed light on the evolution of these traits in the human lineage.

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Falotico T.
Verderane M.P.
Mendonca-Furtado O.
Spagnoletti N.
Ottoni E.B.
Visalberghi E.
Izar P.
Japan Monkey Centre., Inuyama, Giappone
Primates (2017): 1–8. doi:10.1007/s10329-017-0631-x
info:cnr-pdr/source/autori:Falotico T.; Verderane M.P.; Mendonca-Furtado O.; Spagnoletti N.; Ottoni E.B.; Visalberghi E.; Izar P./titolo:Food or threat? Wild capuchin monkeys (Sapajus libidinosus) as both predators and prey of snakes/doi:10.1007/s10329-01
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