Females maintain both social relationships and hygiene through grooming. Grooming occurs regardless of climate and seasonal difference. Nevertheless, a female will only groom a limited number of other females, even if the group expands. Females will also groom males, usually for hygienic purposes, but it can serve to attract dominant males to the group. Mothers pass their grooming techniques to their offspring most likely through social rather than genetic means.
The Japanese macaque is omnivorous and will eat a variety of foods. Over 213 species of plant are included on the macaque’s diet. It also eats insects and soil. On Yakushima Island, fruit, mature leaves and fallen seeds are primarily eaten. The macaque also eats fungi, ferns, invertebrates, soil and other parts of plants. In addition, on Yakushima, their diets vary seasonally with fruits being eaten in the summer and herbs being eaten in the winter. Further north, macaques mostly eat foods such as fruit and nuts to store fat for the winter, when food is scarce.
The Japanese macaque is a very intelligent species. Researchers studying this species at Koshima Island in Japan left sweet potatoes out on the beach for them to eat, then witnessed one female, named Imo (Japanese for yam or potato), washing the food off with river water rather than brushing it off as the others were doing, and later even dipping her clean food into salty sea water. After a while, others started to copy her behavior. This trait was then passed on from generation to generation, until eventually all except the oldest members of the troop were washing their food and even seasoning it in the sea. She was similarly the first observed balling up wheat with air pockets, throwing it into the water, and waiting for it to float back up before picking it up and eating it free from dirt. An altered misaccount of this incident is the basis for the “hundredth monkey” effect.
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The Japanese macaque has featured prominently in the religion, folklore, and art of Japan, as well as in proverbs and idiomatic expressions in the Japanese language. In Shinto belief, mythical beasts known as raijū sometimes appeared as monkeys and kept Raijin, the god of lightning, company. The “three wise monkeys”, which warn people to “see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil”, are carved in relief over the door of the famous Tōshō-gū shrine in Nikkō.
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