Macaca fuscataJapanese macaque(Also: snow monkey)

Geographic Range

Japanese macaques, Macaca fuscata, inhabit subtropical or subalpine deciduous, broadleaf, and evergreen forests. They are found on three southern main islands of Japan: Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu, as well as a few smaller islands. Japanese macaques also survive well outside of their natural range, as with one introduced population in Laredo, Texas. (Gron, 2007; Smuts, et al., 1986)


Japanese macaques inhabit subtropical and subalpine forests. In the northern part of their range, they inhabit cool temperate deciduous broadleaf forests. In this region, temperatures average 10.9 ˚C, and annual average rainfall totals 1500 mm. In the southern part of their native range, Japanese macaques live in evergreen broadleaf forests. In this region, temperature averages 20 ˚C, and annual average rainfall totals 3000 mm. Across their range, harsh winters are inevitable, and Japanese macaques tend to spend winter months at lower elevations. Although they have been spotted at elevations as high as 3180 m, during winter months they usually do not exceed elevations of 1800 m. (Fooden and Aimi, 2005; Gron, 2007)

  • Range elevation
    3180 (high) m
    10433.07 (high) ft

Physical Description

Japanese macaques range in color from shades of brown and gray to yellowish brown. They have a colorful face and posterior end that are pinkish red in color. Their fur is very thick, which, because they do not hibernate, helps them stay warm during harsh winters. They have a short stumpy tail. Japanese macaques express sexual dimorphism; males are generally taller and more massive than females. Males average 11.3 kg in weight and 57 cm in height. Females average 8.4 kg in weight and 52.3 cm in height. There also seems to be a correlation between the body weight of Japanese macaques and climate. Japanese macaques in southern areas generally weigh less than those in northern areas of higher elevations, where more snow is present during winter months. Provisioned Japanese macaques have a larger skull than non-provisioned macaques. The skull of provisioned Japanese macaques averages 134.4 mm in length for males and 118.1 mm for females. The skull of non-provisioned individuals are slightly reduced, averaging 129.5 mm in males and 115.8 mm in females. (Fooden and Aimi, 2005; Gron, 2007)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Average mass
    male 11.3 kg; female 8.4 kg
  • Average mass
    8882.5 g
    313.04 oz
  • Average length
    male 57 cm; female 52.3 cm


Courtship is a very important part of reproduction in Japanese macaques. Japanese macaques spend on average 1.6 days with their potential mate during courtship. During this time, they feed, nest, and travel together. Females stay with higher ranking males longer than with lower ranking males. When high ranking males observe a low ranking male with a potential mate, they may try to disrupt their courtship. Copulation can occur arboreally or terrestrially. Females have two types of mating calls. The first is a squawk or squeak that is vocalized just before copulation. The second sounds like an atonal cackle and is vocalized after copulation. Japanese macaques are polygynandrous; males and females copulate with available individuals and have multiple partners during a breeding season. (Gron, 2007)

Female Japanese macaques reach sexual maturity around 3.5 years of age, while males reach sexual maturity around 4.5 years. Although males as young as 1.5 years of age have been observed mounting females, they do not successfully copulate until they are older. Breeding usually occurs between March and September. Gestation lasts an average of 171.7 days, although this is misleading; adding one standard deviation in either direction produces a range of 157 to 188.5 days with a 95% confidence level. When females are ready to give birth, they usually leave the troop and find a safe and private place. Japanese macaques generally have 1 offspring during a breeding season. Twins are rare and occur once in every 488 births. At birth, males weigh on average 539.7 g and females 548.8 g. Weaning may occur as early as 6 to 8 months in some Japanese macaques. In some special cases, however, mothers may continue to nurse their offspring for up to 2.5 years if they have no other intervening births. Female Japanese macaques can produce a perfectly viable infant up to 25 years of age, although this is usual. Fertility does not appear to be correlated with menopause. (Fooden and Aimi, 2005; Wolfe and Noyes, 1981)

Some female Japanese macaques have been observed carrying the body of their infant that was stillborn or otherwise killed, such as in an attack by raccoons or dogs. This behavior sometimes lasts for several days. Males have also been observed committing infanticide. This may reduce time before a female is able to reproduce again, giving the male an opportunity to reproduce. (Fooden and Aimi, 2005; Wolfe and Noyes, 1981)

  • Breeding interval
    Japanese macaques can breed once a year.
  • Breeding season
    Japanese macaques breed from September to April
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    5 to 6 minutes
  • Range weaning age
    6 to 24 + months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3.5 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    1483 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    4.5 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    1369 days

Parental care is an important aspect of the growth of Japanese macaques, and infant mortality is high in this species. Mortality before 1 year of age is 28.4%. During the first 4 weeks of life, infants are carried near the abdomen of adults. Young are carried near the abdomen or on the dorsal side of adults until they are 1 year old. Female Japanese macaques groom their adult offspring more often than their juvenile offspring. This may occur during the time frame when offspring observe behavioral patterns of their mothers, learning multiple successful traits needed later in life. In some troops of Japanese macaques, male paternal parental care is also present. Occasionally males, even high-ranking males, have been observed grooming and protecting infants. Males also carry infants from time to time. (Gron, 2007)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents
  • extended period of juvenile learning
  • inherits maternal/paternal territory
  • maternal position in the dominance hierarchy affects status of young


In the wild, the oldest known male Japanese macaque was 28 years of age. The oldest known female was 32 years of age. (Fooden and Aimi, 2005)


Japanese macaques are both arboreal and terrestrial, and they are mostly quadrupedal when on the ground. Females spend more time in trees whereas males spend more time on the ground. They are also diurnal. Japanese macaques live in troops with a female-bonded social structure. Females do not leave their natal group, whereas males leave the troop as they mature. Troops usually have an alpha male, but social bonds between females exceed those between males. Hierarchal rankings are important to the social structure of Japanese macaques. High ranking individuals have access to food first, and thus low ranking females usually eat less nutritious food. Japanese macaques are nepotistic, meaning daughters inherit the rank of their mother. When a predator is spotted, individuals make a hollering vocalization to warm others in the group. (Belisle and Chapais, 2001; Fa and Lindburg, 1996; Fooden and Aimi, 2005; Gron, 2007; Hadhazy, 2010; Muroyama, 1991; Saito, 1996; Trivedi, 2009)

Japanese macaques exhibit some altruistic behaviors, and most are observed between mothers and daughters. These behaviors include protection, support, food-sharing, and alarm calling when a predator is observed. They may also practice co-feeding, in which a dominant individual gives access of food to subordinate individuals. (Belisle and Chapais, 2001; Fa and Lindburg, 1996; Hadhazy, 2010; Muroyama, 1991; Saito, 1996; Trivedi, 2009)

Social grooming is common among Japanese macaques. Grooming helps to remove parasites and also to create and maintain social bonds within the troop. Most grooming is performed between kin, usually mothers and daughters. Japanese solicit individuals to groom them by approaching an individual and presenting the neck, face, flank, or even rump. Adult females solicit individuals more often than immature offspring. Two different vocalizations are associated with grooming: one when they attempt to groom and one while soliciting grooming. (Belisle and Chapais, 2001; Fa and Lindburg, 1996; Hadhazy, 2010; Muroyama, 1991; Saito, 1996; Trivedi, 2009)

Japanese macaques live further north than any other nonhuman primates and have proven quite adaptable. In the Shiga Heights region on Honshu where humans altered temperature of volcanic hot springs for bathing, a troop of Japanese macaques surprisingly entered the hot springs, presumably to warm up. In 1988, a female Japanese macaque was observed washing sweet potatoes on the coast, and soon other members of the troop also washed food item such as cassava roots and grains of rice. They also peeled potatoes with their incisors and canine teeth. This washing of food may have some nutritional benefit such as adding salt to food. Because some Japanese macaques receive food from humans, they have more time that would otherwise have been allocated toward foraging. Surprisingly, one Japanese macaque was observed playing with rocks. Primatologists are not sure why this occurs, but it is thought to be a recreational event. When Japanese macaques did not have as much downtime, when they became less dependent on humans for daily food intake, they stopped playing with rocks. (Belisle and Chapais, 2001; Fa and Lindburg, 1996; Hadhazy, 2010; Muroyama, 1991; Saito, 1996; Trivedi, 2009)

Home Range

The home range of Japanese macaques is directly correlated with habitat type and averages 3.7 sq km. Day ranges vary with season. Southern Japanese macaques can travel up to 3.21 km a day during the month of August, whereas during winter months, they travel up to 5.02 km. The day range of northern Japanese macaques, which face colder weather, is restricted to 0.85 km for males and 0.93 km for females. When food availability is high, they tend to travel more often. (Gron, 2007)

Communication and Perception

Japanese macaques are social primates and often vocalize within their troop and with related species. There are six groups of vocalizations used by Japanese macaques, including peaceful, defensive, aggressive, and warning vocalizations, which signal their mood. Other vocalizations include those that occur during female estrus and during infancy. More than 50% of vocalizations are peaceful or soothing in nature. Japanese macaques also make body gestures and facial expressions. In captivity during certain threatening situations, they display different facial expressions, including ear-flattening, opening their mouth to display teeth, raising their eyebrows, and even erecting their ears. Subordinate individuals also grimace, lip-smack, display their hindquarters and practice gaze-avoidance. Display behaviors are also common in Japanese macaques, with several different postures such as kicking, shaking, and leaping. These expressions increase in frequency in males during mating season, but they do not increase in females. (Gron, 2007)

Food Habits

Japanese macaques are generalist omnivores, and their diets change seasonally. During the summer, especially June and between September and November, they mostly eat fruits. They also eat seeds, although seeds account for less than 20% of their food intake during these months. During April and May and from December to March, Japanese macaques eat mostly flowers and some nectar. During the winter months, a large part of their diet consists of fibrous mature leafs. They also consume young leafs, which are easier to digest, from April to June. Japanese macaques also opportunistically eat fungi. (Hanya, 2004; Tsuji and Takatsuki, 2004)

On the small island of Kinkazan, off of the eastern coast of Japan’s biggest Island Honshu, Japanese macaques compete for fibrous plant foods with sika deer. Of the six staple food plants on the island, the abundant Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) and Japanese zelkova (Zelkova serrata) are unpalatable to the deer. A large part of the diet of Japanese macaques on the island is thus composed of these plants. (Hanya, 2004; Tsuji and Takatsuki, 2004)

  • Animal Foods
  • eggs
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • roots and tubers
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • nectar
  • flowers
  • Other Foods
  • fungus


Japanese macaques have a variety of predators, including avian birds such as mountain hawk-eagles. Feral dogs frequently attacked and killed Japanese macaques, though they are now rare as populations of dogs are now regulated by the Japanese government. Japanese wolves also preyed on this species, although this subspecies of wolves went extinct in the early 1900s. Raccoon dogs may also prey on Japanese macaques. The most lethal predator of Japanese macaques is humans. Because they are considered agricultural pests, more than 10,000 Japanese macaques have been killed since 1998. When a predator is spotted, Japanese macaques make a hollering vocalization to warm others in the group. Japanese macaques have also been observed hollering when Japanese giant flying squirrels glide above them. This may be out of fear, as they may look like other avian predators. (Fooden and Aimi, 2005; Hadhazy, 2010; Smuts, et al., 1986)

Ecosystem Roles

Japanese macaques eat a variety of plants and insects and, because they eat fruit and seeds, act as seed dispersers. They have been observed crushing and eating seeds and are also considered seed predators. About 36% of seeds on average were recovered after passing through the gastrointestinal process in captive Japanese macaques. Although Japanese macaques compete with Sika deer for some plants on Kinkazan Island, they are also commensalists. When Japanese macaques climb to the tops of trees to forage for the most energy sufficient foods, they inadvertently knock down leaves, which Sika deer eat. (Majolo, 2004; Tsuji, et al., 2009)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Japanese macaques are highly studied for their unusual behavioral patterns. They also carry similar diseases to humans. They may also attract tourists, although they are easily habituated to humans. Some individuals have become habituated to humans in as little as week, while others took several years or more. (Fooden and Aimi, 2005; Smuts, et al., 1986)

  • Positive Impacts
  • ecotourism
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Japanese macaques are considered to be a nuisance, and they are the third worst crop pest behind wild boar and deer. They are also easily habituated to humans and may not be easily scared away. Increased predation on crops and presence near humans may be due to the reduction of natural habitat because of logging. Japanese macaques also carry similiar diseases to humans.

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • carries human disease
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Japanese macaques are considered a species of least concern by the ICUN and threatened by the US Federal List. Although populations are stable, they do face threats from deforestation and hunting because they are agricultural pests. Yakushima Island in Japan was designated a Natural World Heritage Site in 1993. Although established to protect native species, tourism to the island has increased to mixed effect. There are approximately 100,000 Japanese macaques in the wild. ("Japanese macaques (Snow Monkey)", 2010; Gron, 2007)

Other Comments

Originally Japanese macaques may have reached the islands of Japan by crossing a land bridge from Korea during the Middle Pleistocene, as long as 500,000 years ago. In 1972, 150 Japanese macaques were transported from Honshu to Laredo, Texas, where they were placed in an arid brush land habitat. This troop has survived quite well, growing to 470 individuals by 1989. (Fooden and Aimi, 2005; Gron, 2007; Lindburg, 1980)


brandon hardman (author), University of Oregon, Gail McCormick (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff, Stephen Frost (editor), University of Oregon.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates


humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


union of egg and spermatozoan


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


an animal that mainly eats fruit


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats nectar from flowers


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


The term is used in the 1994 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals to refer collectively to species categorized as Endangered (E), Vulnerable (V), Rare (R), Indeterminate (I), or Insufficiently Known (K) and in the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals to refer collectively to species categorized as Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (EN), or Vulnerable (VU).


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


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