BANGKOK, Thailand - Long-tailed macaque monkeys have a reputation for knowing how to find food — whether it be grabbing fruit from jungle trees or snatching a banana from a startled tourist.Now when I read the headline*, I thought that a bunch of monkeys had broken into Bass Pro, liberated a few flyrods, and were, you know, fishing. Like with tools. And bait. Instead we have 4 monkeys in 8 years observed reaching into the water, pulling out minnows, and eating them. I'm not sure that really qualifies as fishing any more than making hamburgers qualifies as hunting.
Now, researchers say they have discovered groups of the silver-haired monkeys in Indonesia that fish.
Groups of long-tailed macaques were observed four times over the past eight years scooping up small fish with their hands and eating them along rivers in East Kalimantan and North Sumatra provinces, according to researchers from The Nature Conservancy and the Great Ape Trust.
The species had been known to eat fruit and forage for crabs and insects, but never before fish from rivers.
"It's exciting that after such a long time you see new behavior," said Erik Meijaard, one of the authors of a study on fishing macaques that appeared in last month's International Journal of Primatology. "It's an indication of how little we know about the species."
How is this any more amazing than picking a banana off of a tree or eating a beetle found under a stump? A hungry monkey sees something that might taste good, he reaches out and grabs it, he puts it in his mouth. If it turns out that it does taste good, he has learned something, and does it again. What is amazing to me is the sheer number of monkeys who have not yet learned that fish tastes good.
Are we running out of significant things to write scientific papers about? Or perhaps it's an indication that the pressure to publish is so intense that every 'discovery**,' no matter how mundane or unsurprising, must be documented, published, and breathlessly trotted out so the rest of the world can go, "If that's an indication of how little we know about the species, obviously you need more money. Have another grant."
I suspect that qualifies as fishing in some sense as well.
* "Scientists find monkeys who know how to fish."
** Defined as something a monkey does that no other monkey-watcher has written about yet.