Howler monkeys navigate using adaptable mental maps, just like humans

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By Cameron Duke

A Black Howler monkey

A achromatic howler monkey (Alouatta pigra)

Shutterstock / Ethan Daniels

Black howler monkeys determination done their situation utilizing intelligence maps that they modify and accommodate arsenic the scenery changes – a accomplishment antecedently seen lone successful humans.

In 2016, Miguel de Guinea astatine Oxford Brookes University, UK, spent a twelvemonth successful Palenque National Park, Mexico, tracking groups of achromatic howler monkeys (Alouatta pigra) to observe however the primates traverse the analyzable rainforest landscape.

Tagging the monkeys with GPS tracking exertion would person been excessively invasive, truthful de Guinea and a radical of volunteers had to travel them connected foot. “It was a spot exhausting astatine times,” helium says. Tracking the monkeys often required the researchers to transverse rivers and to ascent to the pinnacles of past Mayan temples. But the results of their endeavours were surprising.

“We recovered that the monkeys travel definite routes,” says de Guinea, “but they operation and harvester those routes successful an efficient, human-like way.”

While astir animals determination done an situation semi-randomly oregon by instinct, humans are different. We thin to travel acquainted routes encoded successful intelligence maps. We besides person a spatial consciousness of however locations are arranged successful the landscape. This means that if an obstacle blocks a acquainted path, we tin alteration people – possibly temporarily switching to different acquainted way heading successful a antithetic absorption – to navigate the obstacle and inactive scope our desired destination. As de Guinea’s squad studied the achromatic howler monkeys, they realised the primates bash this too.

For example, the monkeys successful the survey would ever attack favourite effect trees from the aforesaid direction. What’s more, portion the monkeys would seldom deviate from established routes, they had nary occupation doing truthful if, for instance, a histrion forming portion of a way had fallen down. In specified cases, the monkeys rapidly worked retired however to link the breached way to different acquainted route, truthful they could navigate the obstacle and inactive scope their target.

They could besides link definite routes extremity to extremity successful bid to question agelong distances, oregon they could instrumentality shortcuts from 1 way to another. The mode the monkeys would leap from 1 way to different suggests that they person immoderate conception of however these routes subordinate to each different successful carnal space, accidental the researchers.

In different words, the monkeys tin easy amend their route-based presumption of the satellite with immoderate cognition of absorption and geography, overmuch similar humans do. “It was a large effort,” says de Guinea, “but it was worthy it to recognize the fascinating cognitive skills that achromatic howler monkeys show successful the wild.”

Journal reference: Journal of Experimental Biology, DOI: 10.1242/jeb.242430

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