Similarity in food cleaning techniques within matrilines in wild vervet monkeys

PLoS One. 2012;7(4):e35694. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0035694. Epub 2012 Apr 25.


Social learning and the formation of traditions rely on the ability and willingness to copy one another. A central question is under which conditions individuals adapt behaviour to social influences. Here, we demonstrate that similarities in food processing techniques emerge on the level of matrilines (mother-offspring) but not on the group level in an experiment on six groups of wild vervet monkeys that involved grapes covered with sand. Monkeys regularly ate unclean grapes but also used four cleaning techniques more similarly within matrilines: rubbing in hands, rubbing on substrate, open with mouth, and open with hands. Individual cleaning techniques evolved over time as they converged within matrilines, stabilised at the end and remained stable in a follow-up session more than one year later. The similarity within matrilines persisted when we analyzed only foraging events of individuals in the absence of other matriline members and matriline members used more similar methods than adult full sisters. Thus, momentary conversion or purely genetic causation are unlikely explanations, favouring social learning as mechanism for within matriline similarities. The restriction of traditions to matriline membership rather than to the group level may restrict the development of culture in monkeys relative to apes or humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chlorocebus aethiops / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Food
  • Hominidae
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Behavior*