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Scientists find fishing monkeys

Long-tailed macaque monkeys have a reputation for knowing how to find food –whether it be grabbing fruit from jungle trees or snatching a banana from a startled tourist.

Now, researchers say they have discovered groups of the silver-haired monkeys in Indonesia that fish.

Groups of long-tailed macaques were observed four times over the past eight years scooping up small fish with their hands and eating them along rivers in East Kalimantan and North Sumatra provinces, according to researchers from The Nature Conservancy and the Great Ape Trust.

The species had been known to eat fruit and forage for crabs and insects but never before fish from rivers.

“It's exciting that after such a long time you see new behavior,” said Erik Meijaard, one of the authors of a study on fishing macaques that appeared in last month's International Journal of Primatology. “It's an indication of how little we know about the species.”

Meijaard, a senior science adviser at The Nature Conservancy, said it was unclear what prompted the long-tailed macaques to go fishing. But he said it showed a side of the monkeys that is well-known to researchers – an ability to adapt to the changing environment and shifting food sources.

“They are a survivor species, which has the knowledge to cope with difficult conditions,” Meijaard said Tuesday. “This behavior potentially symbolizes that ecological flexibility.”

Agustin Fuentes, a University of Notre Dame anthropology professor who studies long-tailed macaques, or macaca fascicularis, on the Indonesian island of Bali and in Singapore, said he was “heartened” to see the finding published because such details can offer insight into the “complexity of these animals.”

“It was not surprising to me because they are very adaptive,” he said. “If you provide them with an opportunity to get something tasty, they will do their best to get it.”

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