Primate Societies and Groups

Primates (which includes monkeys, lemurs, apes, lorises, tarsiers, baboons, and you, humans) live primarily in the Southern hemisphere. All primates have unusually large brains relative to their body size and rely on sight more than smell. Most animals rely on smell more. Each species (excluding humans) has one type of social structure, but there are six common social structures that they might fall into.


Lemur Mother with Babies

The least common is a single mother and her children. This happens sometimes with lemurs, where the father doesn’t take an active parenting role and only interacts with females for mating. Unlike with other species, both the males and females leave their mother once reaching adulthood. A similar social structure is a mother and father raising their children together. The children also all leave once growing up in this family setup.



Small New World monkeys usually form polyandrous family units. These consist of a single female and two males, one who is the father to her children and one who assists in raising the kids. This structure probably evolved because these species usually have twins, so having three parents lets one rest every now and then. When moving, the babies are carried on the males’ backs instead of by the mother. The reverse is extremely common, as well. Polygynous groups have actually been proven to create a very stable gene pool and is the preferred social structure in many human societies. In these species, while the male usually takes a protective role, the relationships between all the females are the foundation of the family.


Troop of BaboonsSpecies such as baboons have a social structure with many males and many females. In each group, there tends to be a rigid hierarchy led by an alpha male and alpha female. As with polygynous groups, it is the females in the group, who remain together through life, which make the group cohesive. The males tend to change groups over the course of their lives. The stress caused by some of the species’ social hierarchy, which requires individuals to defend their position through combat, has actually shown to cause physical health problems.


Small Group of ChimpanzeesThe final type of social structure that we see in primates is one that is common in many species of mammals and is used by our close relatives, the chimpanzees, but not usually by humans. This type of social structure is called fission-fusion. This is when there is no consistent group, female or otherwise, and the size of groups changes based on time of year. In the case of chimpanzees, it is actually the males who are going to stay together if anyone is.



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