Owl Monkeys: Among the Most Amazing Mammal Fathers

For owl monkey fathers, it doesn't take a village.

Posted Feb 02, 2012

If it takes a village to raise children, owl monkeys are in trouble. They are unusual--and perhaps unique--in raising children without much help from others. As with many mobile human pairs (I include my wife and me among them), owl monkey parents raise the kids by themselves. They get little or no help from extended families or neighbors. 

Most mammalian fathers do not stick around for childrearing. Humans are among the few percent of mammal species in which the fathers help with childrearing. Some species of voles and mice, and a few others, do the same. 

Owl monkey mothers nurse their offspring for about four weeks, and then both mothers and fathers begin to provide leaves, flowers, and figs. Studies suggest fathers may transfer tood to their offspring three times as often as mothers. 

In other words, after weaning, the fathers take over primary responsibility for feeding their young. Interestingly, during weaning, mothers also provide food to fathers--evidence, perhaps, of the strength of the parents' bond.

We don't know much about fathers' involvement in ancestral human societies, where we might see evidence of how human caretaking evolved before the arrival of agriculture and the later disruption of industrial society. And it's tempting to say that many human fathers do not take very good care of their young. But studies of animal fathers do give us some insight into our own behavior as fathers. 

[The information in this post comes from Kelly Lambert of Randolph-Macon College, and from a paper by Francisco Ubeda of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.]