text-only page produced automatically by LIFT Text Transcoder Skip all navigation and go to page contentSkip top navigation and go to directorate navigationSkip top navigation and go to page navigation
National Science Foundation Home National Science Foundation - Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences (SBE)
Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences (SBE)
design element
SBE Home
About SBE
Funding Opportunities
Awards
News
Events
Discoveries
Publications
Advisory Committee
Career Opportunities
See Additional SBE Resources
View SBE Staff
SBE Organizations
Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES)
Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
SBE Office of Multidisciplinary Activities (SMA)
Proposals and Awards
Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide
  Introduction
Proposal Preparation and Submission
bullet Grant Proposal Guide
  bullet Grants.gov Application Guide
Award and Administration
bullet Award and Administration Guide
Award Conditions
Other Types of Proposals
Merit Review
NSF Outreach
Policy Office
Additional SBE Resources
Exploring What Makes Us Human
Rebuilding the Mosaic Report
Bringing People Into Focus: How Social, Behavioral & Economic Research Addresses National Challenges
"Youth Violence: What We Need to Know" Report to NSF
Social, Behavioral and Economic Research in the Federal Context Report
Expedited Review of Social and Behavioral Research Activities Report
SBE Advisory Committee Web Site (for members only)
Other Site Features
Special Reports
Research Overviews
Multimedia Gallery
Classroom Resources
NSF-Wide Investments

Email this pagePrint this page

Discovery
Father's day special: And the best father in the animal kingdom is...

Award-winning primatologist and conservationist Patricia Wright discusses why owl monkeys and other species of small monkeys are extraordinarily devoted dads

owl monkeys
Video available View video

Wright explains why some species of small monkeys deserve special applause on Father's Day.
Credit and Larger Version

June 11, 2014

If there were a competition for "best father" in the animal kingdom, owl monkeys might very well win.

Why? Because father owl monkeys provide most of the care needed by their young--carrying them almost all the time, even when chased by predators. By contrast, caregiving from owl monkey mothers to their young is limited almost exclusively to nursing.

Devoted dads

Considering the high prevalence of "deadbeat dads" and even "cannibal dads" in the animal kingdom, why--of all creatures--are father owl monkeys so attentive and protective of their young? This question is answered by Patricia C. Wright of Stony Brook University in the accompanying video.

Wright's insights are largely based on her doctoral research on owl monkeys in the rainforests of South America. Her research was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Wright is a renowned primate researcher and conservationist, the 2014 winner of the Indianapolis Prize--which is generally regarded as the Nobel Prize of conservation--and the author of High Moon over the Amazon: My Quest to Understand the Monkeys of the Night (Lantern Books: 2013).

Not too wild for monogamy

Wright said that owl monkeys are not only devoted fathers, but are also truly monogamous--another rarity in the wild. An owl monkey is faithful to its mate until its mate dies. The unflagging fidelity of owl monkeys has been verified by DNA fingerprinting, similar to the type of DNA fingerprinting used in the courts to prove human paternity.

By contrast, DNA fingerprinting has revealed that many animal species that were once thought to be monogamous are really socially monogamous--meaning that a male and female form a long-term pair; mate and raise their young together; and spend time together; but may nevertheless occasionally mate with others. Owl monkeys are even more loyal to their mates than are those classic icons of love and fidelity--swans, which were recently revealed by DNA fingerprinting to be socially monogamous rather than truly monogamous.

Taking back the night

In addition to being good fathers and staunchly faithful mates, owl monkeys have another extraordinary trait: They are nocturnal--even though they were once daytime creatures, as indicated by certain characteristics of their eyes, said Wright. Lacking built-in flashlights, why would any species return to the night?

Wright's field research suggests several potential reasons why owl monkeys may have joined the night life. For one thing, Wright observed families of owl monkeys snuggle and sleep together in protected tangles of vines or tree holes during the day, and then climb into the forest canopy to find their favorite tree fruits at night.

Wright speculates that owl monkeys, which are relatively small monkeys, hide and sleep during the day in order to avoid huge, day-hunting raptors, such as harpy eagles and hawks, which regularly swoop down from the skies and snatch even large monkeys that dangle and jump through the tall forest canopy during the day.

Also, by only searching for tree fruits during the night, owl monkeys avoid competing with larger monkeys that spend their days hunting for the same fruits. So by "time sharing" the canopy with larger monkeys in a day-night cycle, owl monkeys increase their potential for collecting food while reducing their risk from predators.

Learn more

See an NSF article and slide show titled, Animal Attraction: The Many Forms of Monogamy in the Animal Kingdom, and an online WashingtonPost.com chat with a former NSF program director titled, From Devoted, to Deadbeat, to Cannibal: How Animal Fathers Survive in the Wild.

--  Lily Whiteman, National Science Foundation (703) 292-8310 lwhitema@nsf.gov

Investigators
Patricia Wright

An infant owl monkey rides comfortably and well camoflaged on its father's back.
A dependent infant owl monkey rides comfortably and well camoflaged on its father's back.
Credit and Larger Version

group of owl monkeys huddling,  with an infant  is huddled between the mother and father.
Owl monkeys huddling: The infant (second from right) is huddled between the mother and father.
Credit and Larger Version

tamarin monkey dad and baby  on a branch
In accompanying video, Wright explains why tamarins (here) and other small monkeys have good dads.
Credit and Larger Version

Patricia Wright in 1972 with an owl monkey
Patricia Wright in 1972 with an owl monkey that helped inspire her to become a primate researcher.
Credit and Larger Version



Email this pagePrint this page
Back to Top of page