snow monkeys split image

Have you ever seen a monkey taking a bath? Well, you’re about to see lots of them! 🛁

Japanese macaques, also known as snow monkeys, are the most northerly primate in the world, besides us humans.

They mostly live in the snowy mountains and forests of the Jigokudani area on Japan’s main island, Honshu. 🗻

The weather is cold and the winters are harsh, but snow monkeys know the perfect way to stay warm...

snow monkey with wet fur

What is a primate?
Primates are some of the most intelligent types of mammals. Humans, apes, monkeys and lemurs are all primates. 🐒🦍🚶

Here are some quick facts about snow monkeys:

Scientific name: Macaca fuscata

Weight: 11-18 kg (25-40 lbs)

Height: 50-58.5 cm (20-23 inches)

Average lifespan: 22-27 years

snow monkeys relaxing in water

Snow monkeys are well-adapted to the cold. Their bodies are almost entirely covered in brown and grey fur, leaving just their pink faces and butts exposed.

As the temperature drops, their coats get thicker, allowing them to cope with temperatures as low as −20 °C (−4 °F)🥶️

During these freezing winter months, snow monkeys survive by lounging in the area’s natural hot springs. Here, in Mother Nature’s jacuzzi, they spend the day relaxing, napping and grooming each other. 😄

snow monkeys in hot springs

Before you get into a hot bath, you probably dip your toes in to test the water, right? 🛁🦶️

Snow monkeys do the same thing! 🐵

The temperature of the volcanic spring water can reach 43°C (109°F), so the monkeys splash the water with their hands or feet before slowly easing their way in.

snow monkeys playing in snowWhen it gets too hot, they cool off by playing in the snow. They also like to make snowballs and roll them on the ground -  both kids and adults alike enjoy playing this game! 😁

After monkeying around for a while, they jump right back into the warm, relaxing water. 😎

snow monkeys grooming

Snow monkeys have strong social bonds between troop members, which they strengthen by grooming each other’s fur. 

During the winter time, they gather together closely and hug each other to prevent heat loss. 🤗

Did you know?
A group of monkeys is called a "troop" or "barrel". 🐒🐒🐒

snow monkeys hugging

Snow monkeys are a big part of Japan’s art, religion and mythology.

The "three wise monkeys", which may be familiar to you as emojis, are snow monkeys. 

Their names are:

  • Mizaru, who sees no evil, covering his eyes 🙈
  • Kikazaru, who hears no evil, covering his ears 🙉
  • Iwazaru, who speaks no evil, covering his mouth 🙊

snow monkeys drinking water

Japanese macaques live in troops of 20-30 members, which are usually led by an alpha male. 💪

However, that’s not always the case.

In 2021, a female named Yakei rose through the ranks to become her troop's leader. She did so by overthrowing everyone ranked higher than her, including all the male monkeys and even her own mother!

Yakei became her troop's first female leader in its 70-year history. 👑

baby snow monkey holding stick

Snow monkeys are omnivores. This means they eat all kinds of food, such as insects, bird eggs, fruits and seeds. 😋

During a study on snow monkeys in the 1950s, researchers put out sweet potatoes for them to eat. Whilst most of the monkeys simply brushed any soil off the potato before eating it, one female monkey washed her potato in the river water. Later, she even dipped it into the salty sea water to add some flavour! 🍠

She was named Imo, which is Japanese for yam or potato. Other monkeys in Imo’s troop began to copy her and teach this knowledge to the next generation.

Eventually, it became normal for everyone to wash and season their food in this way. 😃

snow monkey walking on all foursOver the years, the Jigokudani area has become a hotspot for tourists who hope to see the bathing monkeys.

Fortunately, the Japanese government is working hard to protect their habitat and, for now, snow monkeys are not an endangered species. 😊

Let’s hope that these amazing, record-breaking primates continue to thrive for centuries to come! 🐒

Test your primate knowledge with this quiz about our close animal relatives