Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
SAF Archives  search ask the scientists in the classroom cool science

Guide Index

Keeping the Peace

Chimp Manners

Monkey See, Monkey Do?

Chimps Count

Finger Food

The Mating Game
in the classroom


Sexual politics among the rhesus macaques on the island of Cayo Santiago are an endless subject of study for primatologist John Berard, whose observations challenge some long-standing behavioral assumptions about dominant males. Female macaques don't always choose the leader of the pack, but frequently prefer a lower-ranking stranger as a mate. Berard suggests this "monkey business" may have an evolutionary advantage in creating genetic diversity.

Curriculum Links
Activity: Be a Primate Watcher



Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium,
genetics, hybrid vigor

animal behavior,

gender equity,
sexual reproduction

evolution, inbreeding,
natural selection

population studies,
royal families


Have you ever wanted to study animal behavior? Primatologists Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall and Birut Galdikas did. Through their work with primates, these women became leading scientists in the field of ethology or the study of animal behavior. Fossey's work with gorillas, Goodall's many years of living and working with chimpanzees and the observations of orangutans by Galdikas revealed extraordinary information about the social and family lives of these great apes.

Now, it's your chance to become a primate watcher. Your teacher will assign a group of zoo animals for you to observe. Remember, when you are an observer, you should interact with your subjects as little as possible. Remain still and become a part of their environment.

Make five observations, each five minutes apart. Start your first observation five minutes after you begin watching the animals. Record all your observations as entries in your journal, using the questions and format here as a guide. After completing your observations, prepare a final report.


  1. Organism's Common Name:
  2. Organism's Scientific Name:
  3. Description of Zoo Habitat:
  4. Description of Natural Habitat:
  5. Observation Number:
  6. Observation Time:
  7. Are the animals in groups or are they solitary?
  8. If they are in groups, what is the size of the group?
  9. Do members of the groups interact with each other? If so, how?
  10. Does there appear to be an order of dominance? Explain.
  11. Are there any young animals in the group? If so, describe them.
  12. Does a different behavior pattern exist for the males and females? Explain.
  13. Sketch the layout of the cage (or area in which the animals are confined). Be sure to include the location of water, tree perches, etc. Use an "X" to identify the location of each animal. If possible, record the subject's name next to its position.
  14. Are the animals vocal? If so, describe.
  15. Do the animals communicate with each other? If so, how?
  16. Describe their social behavior.

  1. Do the animals you observed react to people? Explain.
  2. Did you observe a pattern in the animals' movement? If so, describe it.
  3. Did the animals' behavior toward you or each other change during the half hour of observation? If so, how?

TE NOTE: If primate watching is not practical, you may wish to adapt this activity to include observations of other animals in a park or other habitat.


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.