Like us, vervets don't monkey around when it comes to food
When trial and error doesn't work, they plan their routes to find it - just as humans do
Vervet monkeys can plan their routes in the same way humans do.
A new University of Toronto study, published recently in scientific journal Plos One, found that when foraging for food, vervet moneys, which are found mostly in Southern Africa, apply simple rules of thumb, without giving it much thought.
“People are amazed that animals can often find the shortest route when foraging for food, and the big question is how they’re able to figure it out?” said researcher Julie Teichroeb.
“Solving these kinds of routes is extremely difficult mathematically but we’ve found that these monkeys, much like us, rely on heuristics – problem-solving through trial and error,” said Teichroeb, who together with co-researcher Eve Smeltzer observed the vervets at Lake Nabugabo in Uganda.
Vervet monkeys have also been found to experience hypertension, anxiety, social dependency and even display behaviour.“This is only the second animal where planning of foraging routes has been found, the other being noisy mynah birds,” said Teichroeb.
“While their decisions may not be perfect or even the most ideal, they get the job done. After all, getting paralysed trying to choose from the infinite number of ways to get to several destinations has many costs, especially when trying to locate food.
“Monkeys in particular seem to be good at figuring out the shortest route right away without needing much time or practice,” said Teichroeb.
In the case of vervets, they often end up using a method that humans use called the “nearest neighbour rule”, which is essentially choosing the closest site that hasn't been visited yet.
Using a simple array of platforms containing food, the researchers observed that the monkeys would typically go to the next nearest location.
But when they created a condition where using simple heuristics would no longer lead to near optimal paths, vervets showed an ability to plan their route.A couple of monkeys were even able to routinely figure out the shortest possible path after the condition was introduced, showing individual differences in skill.
“While it’s likely other primates can also plan foraging routes, many are hard to observe in the wild since most prefer to live in trees. Vervets, on the other hand, are perfectly happy on the ground and are relatively comfortable being near humans,” Teichroeb said.
Perhaps the researchers should look at Durban’s trendy Florida Road strip of restaurants, where troops of vervet monkeys have turned the busy road into their foraging ground.
Restaurateurs and patrons have had to contend with the monkeys helping themselves to food on the table at set times, mainly in the morning and afternoon.