, Volume 55, Issue 2, pp 327–335 | Cite as

Functions of an unreported “rocking-embrace” gesture between female Japanese Macaques (Macaca fuscata) in Kinkazan Island, Japan

  • Yukiko Shimooka
  • Naofumi NakagawaEmail author
Original Article


Recently, research has focused on the effects of the concurrence of multimodal signals and their efficacy and meaning. We observed an unreported behaviour, a ventro-ventral “rocking-embrace” gesture that is always accompanied by lip smacking as the facial expression and sometimes by a girney call, in wild Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) living in Kinkazan Island, northern Japan. This study examined the form and contexts of the occurrence of such multimodal signals in order to elucidate its functions. Eighty-eight cases of rocking embrace were recorded during 183 h of observation over 22 days. Adult females were involved in all of the cases. Of the 71 cases between adult females in which behaviours prior to the rocking embrace could be identified, 13 cases were allogrooming interruptions, 11 were aggression, and 42 were approaches, most of which occurred between non-kin grooming partners. The rocking embrace was often followed by allogrooming. This suggests that rocking embraces occur under stressful conditions and may function to reduce tensions. This conclusion is consistent with the contexts and functions of lip smacking and girneys shown in previous studies. In contrast with lip smacking and girneys, neither a rocking embrace nor a ventro-ventral embrace (without rocking) between anoestrous adult females has been previously shown in Japanese macaques. In other macaque species, however, the latter gesture is often observed as an affiliative behaviour that immediately follows conflict; it functions to reconcile or as a greeting when it occurs immediately after an approach. Rocking embraces among the Kinkazan macaques occur in contexts similar to, and have a similar function to, the ancestral gesture of ventro-ventral embracing (which is hidden in Japanese macaques) and the ancestral display of lip smacking (which is still observed in Japanese macaques). The ventro-ventral embrace as a tactile signal might have been hidden since it was made redundant by the visual signal of lip smacking in ancestral macaques.


Embrace Japanese macaques Macaca fuscata Multimodal signals Tension reduction Tactile signals Visual signals 



We would like to express our thanks to emeritus Prof. Y. Sugiyama, Kyoto University, for his guidance during the study. We are also grateful to emeritus Prof. K. Izawa, Miyagi University of Education, for providing invaluable information and help. We extend special thanks to Dr. M. Nakamura and an anonymous reviewer for providing comments and constructive criticism. Drs. H. Sugiura, Kyoto University, and S. Fujita, Kagoshima University, were kind enough to permit us to offer valuable video footage of a rocking embrace in the Electronic supplementary material, and data on oestrus status, respectively. This study was financed by the Cooperative Research Fund of the Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University, to Y.S., and a grant from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (#23370099) to N.N.

Supplementary material

Another typical context in which the ‘rocking embrace’ occurs, i.e. an interruption of grooming interactions. (Video by Dr. H. Sugiura on 21 May 1998). (MPG 16044 kb)


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Copyright information

© Japan Monkey Centre and Springer Japan 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Life and Environment SciencesTeikyo University of ScienceUenoharaJapan
  2. 2.Graduate School of ScienceKyoto UniversityKyotoJapan

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