Japanese macaques, also known as snow monkeys, are famous in Japan for their unusual behaviour; they are the only primate that actively chooses to chill in the snow. The red-faced monkeys are the most northerly-living non-human primate in the world.
In Jigokudani Monkey Park, it snows heavily. Around four months of the year the ground is completely covered with snow. The name of the park comes from a word meaning ‘Hell’s Valley’ named after the natural boiling water that emerges from cracks in the ground, forming a bubbling stream that flows between the forests and steep rock cliffs of the park.
The park attracts tourists from all around the world to see the natural beauty of the area and of course, to witness the monkeys that like to take baths.
But why do they bathe in the hot springs?
It’s most likely a learned behaviour. The story goes: In the 60s a young female took the plunge and ventured into the hot water to fish out some soybeans that had been left by researchers. The food had been left there to tempt the monkeys to stay away from the local orchards and crops. It turns out, this young female quite enjoyed the warmth of the water and in time, others became curious and started following her lead. Today, the increase tourist presence, and food that accompanies them, encourage the macaques to stay right where they are.
Other genius uses of water..
Just like entering the water, another female was spotted dipping her food into the salty water of the sea to wash it before consuming, rather than just brushing off the dirt alone. This ritual was copied by other members of the group, passed down generations, and now remains an integral part of the Japanese macaque’s behaviour. It’s also been argued they may have a taste for salt and using the ocean salt to season their food. It shows how intelligent the species are in establishing new ways of living and learning how to progress as a monkey-society and developing cultures.