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Monkey 'Facebook' Discovered? Research Shows Primates Recognize Faces

Wednesday, 20 Nov 2013 05:31 PM

By Robin Farmer

Monkeys have their own sort of Facbeook, just not the way we know it. Research shows primates can tell friend from foe by the face.

"Faces are really important to how monkeys and apes can tell one another apart,” said Michael Alfaro, one of the researchers, in a news release.

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“We think the color patterns have to do both with the importance of telling individuals of your own species apart from closely related species and for social communication among members of the same species," said Alfaro, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology in the UCLA College of Letters and Science.

His research team focused the faces of 139 Old World African and Asian primate species that have been diversifying over some 25 million years.

Faces of some primates include patches of red, orange, blue, and black. Some have white faces mixed with colors in different proportions, while other primate faces are plain.

Sociable apes and monkeys have more complex and colorful facial patterns. Smaller groups have simpler faces and less color.

"Humans are crazy for Facebook, but our research suggests that primates have been relying on the face to tell friends from competitors for the last 50 million years and that social pressures have guided the evolution of the enormous diversity of faces we see across the group today," Alfaro said in the release.

Species that live near other closely related species tend to have more complex facial patterns, which suggests complex faces may also aid in species recognition, the scientists found.

Published Nov. 11 in the journal Nature Communications, the research was federally funded by the National Science Foundation and supported through a postdoctoral fellowship from the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics.

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