International Journal of Primatology

, Volume 9, Issue 5, pp 425-441

First online:

Vervet monkey grandmothers: Interactions with infant grandoffspring

  • Lynn A. FairbanksAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California

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Social relationships of 30 infants with their maternal grandmothers were studied in a captive colony of vervet monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops sabaeus).Grandmothers and grandinfants formed affiliative relationships with one another that could be distinguished from the infant’s relationships with nonkin adult females and with other adult female kin. The intensity of the grandmother—grandinfant relationship varied according to several factors which were related to the infant’s vulnerability to mortality and to the grandmother’s ability to provide effective social support. High-ranking grandmothers spent more time near their grandinfants, and initiated more grooming and caretaking of their grandinfants, than did lower-ranking grandmothers. Grandmothers spent more time near their daughter’s first surviving infant than near later-born infants, and when grandmothers had more than one adult daughter, they spent more time near the infant of the younger daughter. These results, combined with the fact that the presence of a maternal grandmother has been associated with a reduction in the rate of infant mortality in this colony (Fairbanks and McGuire, 1986), suggest that grandmothers are actively contributing to the reproductive success of their adult daughters and to the survival of their infant grandoffspring.

Key words

grandmothers infants social relationships vervet monkeys kinship