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We are swiftly coming up to the United States election and Ferrebeekeeper needs to endorse a candidate. You can probably already guess whether I will endorse the competent and hard-working patriot (the one who is admittedly very ambitious and bit sloppy with finicky data protocols) or the unhinged con-artist who is not only an ignoramus, a bully, and a bigot, but poses an existential threat to the republic itself. However, before we get around to making this difficult choice (and, maybe…finally reaching an end to this ghastly and divisive national contest) we need to think about primatology.


Specifically there was an experiment conducted by primatologist Frans de Waal with some capuchin monkeys to understand social behavior and social cognition in primate groups.  In the experiment, the capuchins (who are exceedingly bright characters) were asked to do a small task in exchange for a food reward while the other monkeys watched the exchange.  Some monkeys were given grapes…which capuchins love.  Others were given little slivers of cucumber (a far less valuable treat) for completing the same task.


Not surprisingly, monkeys who watched a different monkey do the same task for a much better reward flew into a rage. They hurled their cucumber away and banged on their plexiglass enclosures and shook their little bars and sulked.


Now, a tiny sliver of cucumber is not a valueless thing for a monkey who spends all day being tortured by scientists and fed bland monkey chow. Probably the rational thing to do would be to take the cucumber and kiss the cruel scientists’ hand and call it a day (then quietly wait for a chance to rise up, bite some faces off, and enslave Charlton Heston).


But if you were a monkey and reacted with apparent docility to unfair treatment, who knows how you would be taken advantage of next? It wouldn’t just be primatologists who took advantage of you, soon enough your fellow monkeys would too.

What is truly important to social animals is status: this intangible commodity is fungible and it is pegged to a highly complex and immediate relative framework. A cucumber slice, though fine in its own right confers less status than a prestigious grape.  To throw it away and freak out makes sense to capuchin monkeys because larger issues are on the line (even if they are apparently hurting themselves in the short term).  Spite matters for monkeys: it is one way that monkeys can mess with more powerful entities and protest the unfair allocation of resources and rewards.


Again and again the question arises among the people I know in New York of how anyone could be taken in by an illiterate orange charlatan with a pronounced tendency to molest woman, steal from workers, and cheat on taxes.   Maybe some people truly believe in Donald Trump, but I believe for a larger number of people in the middle of the country he is neither the grape nor the cucumber: Trump is the act of throwing the cucumber away.  High status monkeys should take note and make some immediate changes, but I suspect they will only hide their equities in the Cayman Islands and buy bigger Bentleys. Primates are not great at solving social hierarchy problems without lots of shrieking, biting, and shit-throwing.


It is the year of the fire monkey! Let’s celebrate with some magnificent screaming monkeys from Central and South America. These monkeys are loud–really loud. They are louder than Rush Limbaugh or heavy machinery–so loud that, in fact, that they are generally regarded as the loudest of all land animals. I am talking, of course, about the howler monkeys. These fifteen species make up the genus Alouatta (which lies within the family Atelidae ). They are new world monkeys ranging from the top of Central America down through South America to Uruguay.

Howler monkeys have short snouts with keen noses (they are capable of smelling their favorite fruits and leaves from 2km away). Depending on the species and gender they range from 56 to 92 cm (22 to 36 in) in height or length…or whatever primary dimension you attribute to monkeys. This measurement does not include their tails which can be up to 5 times the length of their body. They weigh 7 to 10 kg (15 to 22 lbs) and live up to 20 years. Howler monkeys are folivore–they mostly eat leaves. This diet is widely available but it is hard to digest–which means howler monkeys are larger and slower than other New World monkeys (although they supplement their diets with fruit and eggs when they can).

The hyoid bones of howler monkeys are pneumatized–which is to say that the u-shaped bone in the monkey’s neck contains air. Outside of the dinosaurs and their descendants, pneumatized bones are exceedingly rare. The hyoid bone anchors the tongue and the larynx and allows for vocalization. The fact that it is specialized in howler monkeys is one of the factors which allows them to vocalize with such ferocious power. There is an inverse relation between the size of the hyoid bone and the size of the male’s testes. This seemingly random fact is actually a key factor in howler society.

Howler monkey lifestyle diverge into two very different ways of living (except for mantled howler monkeys which live together in large groups and behave somewhat differently than the other 14 species). In one model, a male, who has a larger hyoid, and smaller testes gathers a group of females together with his majestic singing (screaming?) voice and he mates with them exclusively like a sultan with his harem. In the other model several males mate with a group of several females. Seemingly, this free love model requires less loud singing and more gonad mass.

At this point you are probably wondering a great deal about the howler monkey song. What is this primal howl which female monkeys prefer over carnal joy? Musical enthusiasts have compared the baritone shout of the male monkeys to a Gregorian chant, a monstrous belch, or a demonic snowplow.  All of these comparisons have some validity…but the sound is so much richer than that.  Why don’t you have a listen (at 1:23) and let us what you think?



Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) in the suburbs and towns

Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) in the suburbs and towns

Ferrebeekeeper has always been renowned for its unabashedly pro-turkey policies and stances (we are talking here about the large galliforme bird from North America—not the nation in Asia-Minor).  It is therefore this blog’s duty to look into the rash of negative stories which have recently been circulating through the media about bad behavior from these magnificent birds and see what (if anything) can be determined.


Apparently wild turkeys have been attacking people across the nation (and messing with our domestic animals and our precious stuff, to boot).  Emboldened by the ever growing size of wild turkey populations (and unaware of the true nature of humans), the birds are taking out their aggressions on churchgoers, children, and even armed officers of the law.  Here is an especially fine collection of “turkey attack” videos gathered together by Gawker.  Slightly more serious articles can be found here and here.

A homeowner attacked by a suburban wild turkey

A homeowner attacked by a suburban wild turkey

The turkey attacks seem to be a result of turkeys coming into suburbia (the wild turkeys of the farmlands and the forests know quite well to fear the fell hand of humankind).  For all their fine qualities, turkeys (like humans) are territorial creatures.  Additionally, like humans, some turkeys are more aggressive or fearless than others. The convenience of factory farming (and humankind’s mastery over domesticated strains of turkeys) has conditioned some suburbanites to think of the birds as fat fluffy simpletons, but the stereotype is far from accurate.  Wild toms can stand 4 feet tall and weigh up to14 kilograms (30 lbs).  The birds have powerful legs with razor-sharp spurs and doughty wings (which spread to six feet).  The scary dinosaurlike quality of some of those gawker clips, illustrates the power, fearlessness, and intelligence of the creatures (which have evolved to be perfectly at home in the woodlands, plains, and swamps of America).

A wild turkey on a car in Burlington

A wild turkey on a car in Burlington

The suburbs are lacking the predators which traditionally hunted wild turkeys and they are likewise lacking the human hunters who nearly drove the birds to extinction.  Turkeys meet non-threatening suburbanites and then began to regard people as fellow turkeys.  Unfortunately, wild turkey society is much like corporate America and involves lots of one-upsmanship, dominance displays, and outright threats (all so that dominant turkeys can rise to the top and obtain preferential mates and resources).  If you are attacked by wild turkeys you need to threaten them back and overmatch their displays with over-the-top sounds and movements. Do not feed wild turkeys!  Wild turkeys can see colors and they have a particular dislike for red (which plays an important part in their mating rituals and contests).  All of these turkey misunderstandings have happened because turkeys have accidentally assumed that we are the same as them (and we have sometimes assumed they are the same as us).  Turkeys and humans are indeed very much alike: both species are clever, territorial, aggressive, bipedal, and omnivorous. In terms of sheer vindictive murderousness and cunning, however, humans vastly outstrip the birds.  Please remember that if wild turkeys begin to play their mind games with you.


Ye Olde Ferrebeekeeper Archives

October 2020