Stone-throwing by Japanese macaques: form and functional aspects of a group-specific behavioral tradition.
Throwing is a major behavioral component of hominid evolution. Comparison of this behavior across a broad range of non-human primate species is needed to elucidate the phylogenetic constraints on throwing behavior. In this study of stone-throwing in Japanese macaques, we present a systematic multi-group comparison of the frequency and prevalence of this behavior as well as detailed descriptions and quantitative data on the form, context, and possible social transmission of stone-throwing. Stone-throws were mainly underarm, performed from a tripedal posture, and often accompanied by repeated vertical leaps. We found marked individual hand preferences for throwing, but no consistent group-level handedness. Our results support the hypotheses relating body posture, throwing style, and handedness in throwing by primates. Based on the analysis of the contexts that may elicit the behavior, we postulate that unaimed stone-throwing in Japanese macaques may serve to augment the effect of agonistic displays, and accordingly, can be regarded as spontaneous tool-use. Our findings are consistent with the comparative data using modern non-human primate species to model the structural processes and functional aspects of throwing evolution in early hominids. This study supports the view that tool-use evolves from initially non-functional behaviors, such as stone handling, which is a form of object play. Stone-throwing by Japanese macaques meets several criteria of a behavioral tradition, including group-specificity. This first report of a stone-tool-use tradition in Japanese macaques is of direct relevance to the question of the evolution of stone technology in hominids.