Rhesus Macaque (Macaca mulatta)

This species has cheek pouches to carry food in while it forages. The average body mass for an adult male is around 6 kilograms, and for the females it is around 3 kilograms. The face, ears, and buttocks lack hair, and the buttocks are a reddish color in both sexes. This is a sexually dimorphic species.

The rhesus macaque is found in the countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, China, India, Laos, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand, and Vietnam. This species is found in a variety of habitats throughout its range, including urban areas.

The rhesus macaque consumes a wide variety of food including leaves, fruit, flowers, berries, insects, grains, grass, ground herbs, and algae, and they will raid crops for food and also gardens and garbage cans. Group sizes can become very large for this species, often reaching into the hundreds, but the groups are usually not smaller than 20 individuals. The rhesus macaque is both terrestrial and arboreal. This is a diurnal species.

The rhesus macaque is a quadrupedal species (Fleagle, 1988).

The rhesus macaque has a multimale-multifemale social system. This species can be said as having a promiscuous mating system, females have a tendency to mate with extra group males (Smuts, 1987). Females remain in their natal group with the onset of maturity, but males will disperse shortly before adolescence, although some males do stay in their natal group for a few years into adulthood. Males tend to migrate with their maternal half brothers or with peers (Boelkins and Wilson, 1972). There is a hierarchical system amongst group members based upon the matriline. Social grooming is used to strengthen bonds between females. Groups can split into smaller groups when their population is expanding (Southwick et al., 1965; Melnick and Kidd, 1983). There is intergroup dominance, meaning that one group of rhesus macaques may be dominant to another group of rhesus macaques for such things as food resources (Lindburg, 1971; 1977). Males and females are both aggressive during intergroup encounters (Lindburg, 1971; 1977).

scream calls: This call is given by the rhesus macaque when they are approached by a non-group conspecific.

coo: Infants give this vocalization when they want contact from the mother, and females give this when they are receptive to copulations.


fear grimace: The lips are retracted so that the teeth are shown; the teeth are clenched together (Estes, 1991). This display functions as an appeasement signal to reduce aggression in aggressive encounters (Estes, 1991).

staring with open mouth: This is the stare accompanied by the mouth being open but the teeth are covered (Estes, 1991). This is a threat expression (Estes, 1991).

tail erect: The tail is held straight up perpendicular to the horizontal. This display communicates submission or aggressive confidence.

lipsmacking: This is when the lips are protruded, then smacked together repeatedly. For the rhesus macaque this is used by the male to invite a female in estrus to copulate (Ransom, 1981).


The rhesus macaque gives birth to a single offspring. During estrus the buttocks and the back of the legs deepen in red color for the female. During the mating season the male’s buttocks and back of the legs also turn bright red.

presenting: This behavior is preformed by the female to elicit copulation from the male; this pattern tells the male that she is ready for copulation (Estes, 1991).

Boelkins, R.C. and Wilson, A.P. 1972. Intergroup Social Dynamics of the Cayo Santiago Rhesus (Macaca mulatta) with Special Reference to Changes in Group Membership by Males. Primates, Vol. 13, 125-140.

Burton, Frances. 1995. The Multimedia Guide to the Non-human Primates. Prentice-Hall Canada Inc.

Estes, R.D. 1991. The Behavior Guide to African Mammals. University of California Press.

Fleagle, John G. 1988. Primate Adaptation and Evolution. Academic Press.

Lindburg, D.G. 1971. The Rhesus Monkey in Northern India: An Ecological and Behavioral Study. In Primate Behavior, vol. 2, ed. L.A. Rosenblum. Academic Press.

Lindburg, D.G. 1977. Feeding Behavior and Diet of Rhesus Monkeys (Macaca mulatta) in a Siwalik Forest in North India. In Primate Ecology, ed. T.H. Clutton-Brock. Academic Press.

Melnick, D.J. and Kidd, K.K. 1983. The Genetic Consequences of Social Group Fission in a Wild Population of Rhesus Monkeys (Macaca mulatta). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. Vol. 12, 229-236.

Ransom, T.W. 1981. Beach Troop of the Gombe. Associated University Presses.

Smuts, B.B. 1987. Sexual Competition and Mate Choice. In Primate Societies, eds. B.B. Smuts, D.L. Cheney, R.M. Seyfarth, R.W. Wrangham, and T.T. Struhsaker. University of Chicago Press.

Southwick, C.H.; Beg, M.A.; and Siddiqi, M.R. 1965. Rhesus Monkeys in North India. In Primate Behavior, ed. I. DeVore. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Last Updated: October 9, 2003.
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