Cooler Than Cool Facts About The Snow Monkeys of Japan

Cooler Than Cool Facts About The Snow Monkeys of Japan

Posted by Leanne Sturrock on 9th Dec 2016

Otherwise known as Japanese Macaques, these adorable animals are one of the most interesting species of all. Inhabiting the mountainous areas of Japan, snow monkeys have been around for centuries, frequently popping up in the folklore and art of ancient Japan. While they serve almost as a mascot to Old Japan, these little monkeys are increasingly popular amongst today's tourists, too, and are often the reason some visitors choose to head towards the mountainous East. But what exactly do our furry friends have to offer? Read on to find out more about the gorgeous Japanese Macaque.

As their name might suggest, the Japanese Macaque tend to live in - you guessed it - the snowier areas of Japan. In fact, snow monkeys are so unphased by the cold that they are officially the most northern-living primate on earth, other than human beings. Their thick fur acts as an insulating coat, protecting the monkeys from particularly low temperatures, and especially high elevations (that's a climate almost as cold as -16 degrees Celsius, and heights as dramatic as 9600 feet above sea level!)

That said, they love to kick back in the tub. Or, rather, in what's known as onsen: a type of natural hot spring frequently found in Japan. Perhaps the most popular onsen for snow monkeys is Jigokudani Monkey Park, where snow falls for around 4 months per year. Jigokudani (meaning 'Hell's Valley' in Japanese, and referencing the steam and bubbles emerging from the ground here) is located just over 3 hours north of Tokyo, and home to hundreds of wild macaques.

Snow monkeys in an onsen

They have quite an impressive life span, often living up to their 30's. One of the oldest known snow monkeys is a lovely little lady named Nikko, who lives at Minnesota Zoo and was last recorded to be 31 years old. The only known older macaques of this kind are two 34 year old monkeys, residing somewhere in the Czech Republic. That said, many monkeys live for considerably shorter lengths of time, due to their natural habitats being consistently destroyed. Over the last century, use of forest woods for construction and fuel have resulted in many monkeys losing their lives, and in other instances, the monkeys have been tragically and purposefully hunted.

Fortunately, some integration with human beings has lead to less fear from macaques, and a stabilisation in their numbers. In fact, one little monkey got so brave that it was recorded to be living in Tokyo for several months! (However, monkeys should NOT be regarded as pets, and much must be done to ensure that all breeds live out safe lives either in their own habitat, or in safe/suitable conservation.)

Snow monkey relaxing in an onsen

While their faces may seem to be raw from the bitter cold, a crimson complexion is actually just the sign of a monkey reaching adulthood, and does not call for sympathy at all. The only parts of a snow monkey that aren't covered in that gorgeous fur are their flushed faces, and their red rear ends!

Snow monkeys aren't particularly picky eaters, but they might make good chefs. Some monkeys have been said to season their food, for example by washing sweet potato in salty water. They've also been seen to clean their food, separating grains from dirt and sand by rinsing them in water and waiting for the unwanted grime to sink away. Away from their supposed culinary expertise, snow monkeys like to eat bark and twigs, fruit, insects and even small mammals. Yes, these fuzzy friends are actually omnivores!

Snow monkey playing in snow

It has been said that Japanese Macaques have a distinct class system, which can mean that the 'social class' monkeys are born into will be the one they'll spend the rest of their lives in. This, however, can change - for instance, class rankings have been known to shift around if a middle-class monkey gives birth, therefore she and her family are able to move up the ladder. It has also been noted that the younger the monkey, the more dominant it is likely to be, with young female monkeys in particular inheriting their strength from their mothers. (This hierarchy continues to change with the birth of every new female.)

Yet, despite clear social boundaries, snow monkeys are very caring and will look out for their own. They are happy to share their hunting techniques with others, will allot specific roles to members of their (often large) troops as to boost productivity and morale, and will teach their young how to play with snowballs - there's nothing better than having a good time! The bond between a troop of snow monkeys is very close, and you'll often see them grooming each other for fleas or snuggling up close during the harshest of winters, thus smoothing out social bonds and allowing the monkeys to live in perfect harmony.

Snow monkeys huddling

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Clorinda Martignetti commented 1 year ago
Just watched a great doc on these monkeys and I think I’m in love!! Have always felt some weird pull to Japan and am dying to visit one day. I know where I’ll be starting!

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cadence commented 5 years ago
I loooooooooove snow monkeys

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Harvest Hill STEAM Academy
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