Washington, June 16 (ANI): A New York-based anthropologist has found that fruit-eating capuchin monkeys use false alarms to steal food.
Brandon Wheeler, a graduate student at Stony Brook University, set up platforms in the trees of Argentina's Iguazu National Park, and filled them with highly prized banana slices.
He said that the tufted capuchins ate together, and individuals of relatively low social rank did not always have access to the food.
The researcher observed that such low social rank individuals would sometimes make loud alarm calls to warn the rest of the group of an incoming predator, but usually there was no danger in sight.
Wheeler said that when nearby monkeys dropped their food and ran, the one that had sounded the false alarm moved in to scoop up the bounty.
The researcher admits that it cannot be conclusively said that such trickery is truly intentional, and that it is possible that a monkey really thinks some threat is present when it sounds the alarm.
However, according to him, the caller quickly realizes that there's no danger and redirects its attention to the food.
After this happens a few times, a monkey might learn to repeat the behaviour even when the animal is sure there are no predators around. That, however, remains to be proven.
Wheeler said that it was also possible that the alarm call was not meant as an alarm, but was "kind of like a monkey curse word."
He points out that the monkeys normally scream the call in high stress situations, such as predator encounters.
"I suspect that these feeding situations are stressful for subordinate individuals, because they sit there and watch dominant individuals eat delicious food but have little chance of getting any themselves," National Geographic News quoted Wheeler as saying.
The stress may build up to the point where a monkey reacts vocally, and others mistake the outburst as an alarm.
Wheeler believes that measuring the monkeys' stress hormones might help discover whether this is the case or not.
A research article on the current study has been published online in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. (ANI)