Wednesday, June 16, 2010

“Males behaving dadly”

Natalie Angier, the writer who brings life, and laughs, to NYTimes science coverage, was at it again yesterday – this time with primates and their “mothering” tendencies. Except that it’s the dads, or at least the males, who do the mothering, and they reportedly love every second.

Angier writes about Barbary macaques for whom infants are status symbols, networking tools and bonding instruments. Sometimes those babies don’t even belong to the males who use them; the important thing is to carry one anyway.

The “downy black fur and wrinkly pinkish face” of a macaque baby enraptures adult males, who “will hold up the infant like a holy thing, nuzzling it, chattering their teeth,” and bewildering whoever observes the behavior.

What we usually think of as “motherly” behavior is often the province of dads in the primate world. Angier writes: “In 90 percent of mammalian species, promiscuity is common and paternity uncertain; females gestate the young internally and then provision them with breast milk, and males rarely have any evolutionary incentive . . . . Yet in that remaining 10 percent, the daddy decile, we find most of the world’s primates.”

This unusual fathering occurs in other species too, according to Angier. Male pipefish, for instance, oversee nourishment for their offspring, and some male birds are keepers of the nest.

Angier’s story, “Paternal Bonds, Special and Strange,” is accompanied by a cunning short video showing two adult male macaques holding, hugging and not letting go of a baby, who seems desperate to get out of their embrace, walk around and explore!


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