Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Holy Shit, Monkey Language!

Capuchin Look of Disapproval

Remember how I fucking love monkeys? Because monkeys are both adorable and intelligent, which is a winning combination in my book. How intelligent are they? Oh, rhetorical device, you always know just the right questions to ask! How would you like to hear an example of simian intelligence?

Let's talk about Capuchin monkeys. Capuchins are basically the quintessential monkey's monkey. They're a New World species, meaning they live in Central and South America, and they are the monkey that people usually picture when they hear the word monkey (unless they picture chimpanzees, in which case they're picturing an ape and should feel rather silly for making such an elementary mistake). They are the organ grinder monkey, the helper monkey, and the monkey that gave the most adorable "Heil Hitler" salute in cinematic history (shortly before a tragic rendezvous with some bad dates).

Nazi Monkey
R.I.P., little Nazi. *sniff*

In the wild, Capuchins have an impressive ability to function as a community. They have the same social structure as most other mammals. The alpha monkeys get most of the grub and most of the tail, while the weaker ones have to settle for whatever the alphas don't want. Oh, and you know what else they have? Language. Bona fide language. It's not terribly complex, and it's certainly not the reason an infinite number of monkeys with typewriters will eventually produce the Great Simian Novel, but it's there and it serves its purpose.

See, Capuchins deal with a lot of crap on a daily basis, and much of that crap wants to eat them. Their greatest defense is their agility, which allows them to get away at a moment's notice. If there's a snake, they need to climb trees. If there's a bird of prey, then need to hide in the brush. Their only problem is that their predators have learned to be rather sneaky. What's a Capuchin to do?

Develop language, that's what. They have a different screech for every type of danger. When a snake shows up, one of the monkeys in the troop will say "SNAKE!" But in monkey, so, "BAKADAKA BRAAAK!" Instantly, the entire troop takes to the trees to escape the danger. Pretty cool, huh? It gets better.

Let's say there's a lowly little Capuchin who finds an egg he wants to eat. Social rules say that he needs to give his delicious morsel to the alpha, but he's really hungry, and that Alpha guy is a real dick. He decides he wants to keep the egg for himself, but he has no hope of facing the alpha directly. Once again, what's a Capuchin to do?

The answer: become a filthy little liar. He screeches, "SNAKE!" and everyone but him hauls ass to the trees. With a little chuckle, he pulls the egg from its hiding place and chows down. Does that violate the trust of the troop? Yeah. But a monkey's gotta eat, right? See it in action:

Let's recap:

Monkeys can talk, but only in their language (holy shit!)

They use their power of speech to lie (holy shit!)

Which gives us pretty strong evidence that they have active imaginations. See why I love monkeys so much?

Seriously. Holy shit.

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