, Volume 82, Issue 2, pp 166-171

Alternative seed-handling strategies in primates: seed-spitting by long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis)

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Summary

The seeds in fruits consumed by primates may be chewed and digested, swallowed and defecated intact, or separated from the flesh and spat out. We show by a combination of close field observations and experiments with caged animals, that long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) have a remarkably low threshold of 3–4 mm for swallowing seeds and also that wild macaques rarely break them. The seeds of 69% of the ripe fruit species eaten are spat out intact or cleaned outside the mouth and dropped. Seed-spitting significantly reduces the swallowed food bulk and may lessen the risk of releasing seed toxins during mastication. However, it requires that even small fruits are processed in the mouth one or a few at a time. We suggest that fruit storage in the cheek pouches of cercopithecine monkeys allows them to spit seeds individually without excessively slowing fruit intake while feeding on patchily distributed fruit. In contrast, Apes and New World monkeys apparently swallow and defecate most ripe seeds in their diet and colobine monkeys break and digest them, detoxifying seed defenses by bacterial fermentation.