Primate of the Week: Rhesus macaque

Macaca mulatta



  • Suborder: Haplorrhini
  • Infraorder: Simiiformes
  • Superfamily: Cercopithecoidea
  • Family: Cercopithecidae
  • Subfamily: Cercopithecinae


Rhesus macaques are old world monkeys. They have reddish pink faces with brown to auburn fur. Their rumps are reddish pink and they have medium length tails. Males and females are sexual dimorphic. Males on average weigh 17 pounds (7.7 kg) while females on average weight 11.8 pounds (5.8 kg) (Seth et al. 2001).


They most often move quadrupedal but depending on their environment they are in they will tend to be more arboreal or more terrestrial (Seth et al. 2001). Rhesus macaques are located in large geographic area. They can be found in both tropical and temperate areas hat include semidesert, dry deciduous, mixed deciduous and bamboo and temperate forests (Southwick et al., 1996).


Rhesus macaques are also highly adapted to living humans. Their diet includes human sources that are either given directly or from agriculture via raiding crops (Richard et al., 1989; Southwick and Siddiqi, 1994; Goldstein and Richard, 1989). Rhesus macaques are omnivores and feed on plants and Invertebraes (Goldstein and Richard, 1989).


Rhesus macaques live in large multi male and multi female. They live in groups of 10 to 80 individuals. Groups tend to reach hundred in mountainous areas and areas with human agriculture (Lindburg, 1971; Qu et al., 1993; Southwick et al., 1996). Females are philopatric and remain in their natal groups. Males will disperse the breeding season prior to puberty and will transfer groups throughout their lives. Females will form stable dominance hierarchies belonging to their matrilineal kinship (Melnick et al., 1984). Like baboons, rank is passed to female offspring. Each female will be a rank above her older sister (Seth, 2000).


Females reach puberty at approximately three year of age while males are sexual mature at four years of age (Rawlin and Kessler, 1986b). Estrus lasts eight to twelve days (Fooden, 2000). Although males reach sexual maturity at four years of age most do not reproduce until eight years of age (Bercovitch et al., 2003). The majority of mating occurs in October through December this allows births to occur during the highest food abundance or during the end of the rainy season (Lindburg, 1971; Qu et al., 1993). Females will mate with multiple males but will form consorts with several males (Lindburg, 1971; Fooden, 2000). Gestation lasts 164 days (Fooden, 2000).


The mother is the major parental caregiver but infants are usually closely handled by close female relative and protected by males (Lindburg, 1971).



Fooden J. 2000. Systematic review of the rhesus macaque, Macaca mulatta (Zimmermann, 1780). Field Zool 96: 1-180.

Goldstein SJ, Richard AF. 1989. Ecology of rhesus macaques ( Macaca mulatta ) in northwest Pakistan . Int J Primatol 10(6): 531-67.

Lindburg DG. 1971. The rhesus monkey in north India : an ecological and behavioral study. In: Rosenblum LA, editor. Primate behavior: developments in field and laboratory research, Volume 2. New York : Academic Pr. p 1-106.

Melnick DJ, Pearl MC, Richard AF. 1984. Male migration and inbreeding avoidance in wild rhesus monkeys. Am J Primatol 7(3): 229-43.

Qu W, Zhang Y, Manry D, Southwick CH. 1993. Rhesus monkeys ( Macaca mulatta ) in the Taihang Mountains , Jiyuan County , Henan , China . Int J Primatol 14(4): 607-21.

Rawlins RG, Kessler MJ, editors. 1986b. Demography of the free-ranging Cayo Santiago macaques (1976-1983). In: The Cayo Santiago macaques: history, behavior, and biology. Albany (NY): State Univ New York Pr. p 13-45.

Rawlins RG, Kessler MJ, editors. 1986a. The history of the Cayo Santiago colony. In: The Cayo Santiago macaques: history, behavior, and biology. Albany (NY): State Univ New York Pr. p 13-45.

Richard AF, Goldstein SJ, Dewar RE. 1989. Weed macaques: the evolutionary implications of macaque feeding ecology. Int J Primatol 10(6): 569-94.

Seth PK. 2000. Habitat, resource utilization, patterns and determinants of behaviour in rhesus monkeys. J Hum Ecol 11(1): 1-21.

Seth PK , Chopra PK , Seth S. 2001. Indian rhesus macaque: habitat, ecology and activity patterns of naturally occurring populations. In: Gupta AK , editor. Vol 1(1), Non-human primates of India , ENVIS bulletin: wildlife & protected areas. Dehradun ( India ): Wildl Inst India . p 68-80.

Seth PK , Seth S. 1986. Ecology and behaviour of rhesus monkeys in India . In: Else JG, Lee PC, editors. Primate ecology and conservation, Volume 2. Cambridge ( UK ): Cambridge Univ Pr. 89-103.

Southwick CH, Siddiqi MF. 1994. Primate commensalisms: the rhesus monkey in India . Rev Ecol (Terre Vie) 49: 223-31.

Southwick CH, Siddiqi MF. 2001. Status, conservation and management of primates in India . In: Gupta AK , editor. Vol 1(1), Non-human primates of India , ENVIS bulletin: wildlife & protected areas. Dehradun ( India ): Wildl Inst India . p 81-91.


Southwick CH, Zhang Y, Hiang H, Liu Z, Qu W. 1996. Population ecology of rhesus macaques in tropical and temperate habitats in China . In: Fa JE, Lindburg DG, editors. Evolution and ecology of macaque societies. Cambridge ( UK ): Cambridge Univ Pr. p 95-105.



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  1. Pingback: Primate News of the Week | Primatoloigistinthemaking

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