The Japanese Macaques (scientifically referred to as Macaca Fuscata) is a species of primate that ranges from the areas of Shimokita Peninsula, the Nagano Mountains (in which the famous hot springs are heated by the Shiga Kogen volcano), on the seaside of the island of Oshima, and the southern island of Yaku-Shima in the expansive country of Japan. The Japanese Macaques are classified as polar living primates meaning that the species are able to live in a variety of temperatures, predominantly sub-freezing, with some temperatures reaching as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit. Among their various other traits, the macaques are classified along most mammals as diurnal, in which they spend their nights sleeping and their days actively searching for food. Macaques are omnivores; their diet consists of fruits, seeds, leaves, flowers, insects, and tree bark. The variety is mostly due to the seasonal changes and their habitat range. In the spring and summer, leaves, flowers and shoots are the common diet of the Macaques. In the fall the Macaques will eat primarily fruit. Their winter diet consists mainly of buds and bark. They have also been known to eat crabs and bird eggs, and most of their foraging is done on the ground.
The Japanese Macaques, through generations of evolution, have developed certain unique adaptations. Some of the adaptations of the macaques include pouches in their cheeks to store food and the ability to hold their breaths underwater for a minute to retrieve some of their natural diet. The Macaques will commonly pick up grains of wheat that tourists throw into the bottom of the hot springs. The Macaques also have very unique mating habits as well. The macaques have managed to protect a substantial amount of genetic variability by preventing inbreeding among their population. Females are very picky when choosing a mate, subsequently mating every few years, due to the pickiness in choosing potential suitors, being careful not to choose a pervious partner.
The Japanese Macaques are also noted for their characteristic physical traits. In the winter they have a heavier coat to maintain their body temperature, and shed it when summer approaches. The Japanese Macaques use all four of their limbs to get around, but can also walk on their hind legs when carrying items, imitating human-like movements.
Japanese Macaques are very social creatures, living in troops with numbers that reach between twenty to thirty individuals. Each macaque troop has an alpha male, as well as sub-leaders and lower ranking individuals that perform essential tasks necessary for the family group to live. This is put into effect to establish order in the group. When males reach maturity they leave their troop in search of a new one. During that time they will forage for food until they are able to find a suitable group, in which they soon attempt to develop a strong social status. On the opposite side, roughly thirty-two percent of troop populations consist of mature females Macaques. Interestingly, among female siblings, the younger Macaques usually have the higher social ranking. To maintain their social bonds, they groom one another to remove parasites from each other’s bodies.
Barely a century ago, the species of Japanese Macaques started migrating to the hot springs of the mountains of Japan and began observing and imitating human behavior. In 1936, a female macaque waded into a hot spring that had her food tossed into it by a keeper. Finding the warmth soothing against the winter’s bitter cold, she remained to rest. Individuals from her troop soon began joining her. Now, it is a social and survival importance for Macaques to build nesting areas around the hot springs. Another interesting habit of the Macaques began after seeing humans perform certain actions. After witnessing a human scientist washing a potato, they soon adopted the habit of washing edible items. Young monkeys have also learned how to roll snowballs, for fun, like human children. Cultural learning has been passed on through generational imitation.
The Japanese Macaques have been said to be the third most aggressive invaders of Japanese farmers crops, often invading villages and terrorizing inhabitant for the various crops grown on the farms. After farmers complained of damaged and stolen crops, it was decided by the government of Japan to build the macaques their own hot springs and feeding stations in an effort to save the macaques and prevent them from raiding nearby farms.