Rhesus Macaque

Macaca mulatta

Last updated: November 1, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© iStock.com/Zane Michael Cooper

Rhesus Macaques are the most widely distributed primate in terms of geographic diversity

Rhesus Macaque Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Primate
Family
Old-world monkeys
Genus
Macaques
Scientific Name
Macaca mulatta

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Rhesus Macaque Conservation Status

Rhesus Macaque Locations

Rhesus Macaque Locations

Rhesus Macaque Facts

Prey
Rodents and insects
Name Of Young
Infants
Group Behavior
  • Troop
Fun Fact
Rhesus Macaques are the most widely distributed primate in terms of geographic diversity
Most Distinctive Feature
short tails
Gestation Period
6 months
Age Of Independence
6 months
Litter Size
1
Habitat
deciduous, semidesert, mixed deciduous, bamboo, temperate forests, tropical forests, mangroves, and swampland
Predators
wild dogs, weasels, leopards, tigers, crocodiles, snakes, and large birds of prey
Diet
Omnivore
Average Litter Size
1
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal
  • Troop
Origin
India
Location
Asia
Group
Troop

Rhesus Macaque Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Black
  • Tan
  • Dark Brown
  • Light Grey
  • Dark Grey
  • Light-Brown
Skin Type
Fur
Lifespan
20-40 years
Aggression
Medium

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The Rhesus Macaque can acclimate to almost any climate and has the broadest geographic range of any primate besides humans.

Rhesus Macaque Summary

The Rhesus Macaque is an exceptionally smart primate that has acclimated to human urbanization better than most animals. They and humans co-inhabit urban areas in several countries, especially India. These primates share a large majority of their DNA with humans and have some truly astonishing behaviors.

4 Incredible Rhesus Macaque Facts

  • Almost half of the entire population of Rhesus Macaques live in India, in both villages and urban areas.
  • This very mischievous animal is known to have broken into homes, stolen food, and jumped off tall buildings.
  • Humans and Macaques share 93% of their DNA.
  • They can hoard their food in their pouch-like cheeks.

Rhesus Macaque Scientific Name

Macaca mulatta

The scientific name for the Rhesus Macaque is Macaca mulatta. In Latin, Macaca means macaque and mulatta means dark or black. Both the monkey and humans had a common ancestor until they diverged 25 million years ago. While that may seem like a long time ago, these primates still share 93% of their DNA with humans. The name “rhesus” was given to the species by Jean-Baptiste Audebert in the 18th century merely to help distinguish the species from other macaques.

Rhesus Macaque Appearance

Rhesus Macaque monkey sitting on temple stupa.
Rhesus Macaques monkeys inhabit many of the same spaces as humans, so they have gotten used to sharing cities and villages.

©iStock.com/3yephotography

The Rhesus Macaque is an elegant and charismatic creature. Its appearance certainly differs despite the amount of DNA they share with humans. The color of their fur can vary from pale brown to auburn or gray. Their face is generally hairless and light pink in color. They have slightly humanoid faces. Their eyes are round and usually have a yellow tint to them. Since they have a thin bone in their nose, their nostrils point outward. With thin lips, their mouth is still somewhat prominent and outwards. They also have long, pointy ears that sit on the top of their head.

Rhesus Macaques are 20-25 inches in size on average, which is the same length as a 6-month-old child. The average weight for males is about 17 lbs and only 8-12 lbs for females.

Rhesus Macaque Behavior

They are a friendly animal that is not threatened by humans. This monkey inhabits many of the same spaces as humans, so they have gotten used to sharing cities and villages. They usually walk on all fours and can live on land and in trees, depending on their habitat. Rhesus Macaques are diurnal, meaning they are primarily active during the day. These curious and adventurous beings are quite active, and they spend much of the day searching for food, resting, traveling, and grooming themselves or others. Their behavior can vary greatly depending on the primate’s environment.

The animal usually lives in groups called “troops,” with a group size between 20-100. The monkeys also have a hierarchical system within their large troops, with the largest dominant male as the leader.

Rhesus Macaque Habitat

As one of the oldest monkey species in Asia, the Rhesus Macaque can occupy treetops, land, and cityscapes, depending on their environment. They have also been known to live at a maximum elevation of 10,000-15,000 ft above sea level, which indicates their ability to adapt to all conditions.

Their habitats are usually tropical or temperate, including deciduous, semidesert, mixed deciduous, bamboo, temperate forests, tropical forests, mangroves, and swampland. These monkeys can also acclimate to environments with humans in the community. To say the least, they are adaptable to a wide array of different environments.

Rhesus Macaque Diet

Rhesus Macaques are omnivores, meaning they feed on both plants and animals. Their diet primarily consists of plants, such as grass, roots, bark, fruit, and other vegetables. They will also occasionally feed on small animals, such as insects and chickens. Those in urban areas have been known to steal food from humans, scavenge in the garbage, and eat just about anything they can get their hands on.

What eats Rhesus Macaque?

These monkeys are relatively small primates, so they have several predators on their backs. Predators such as wild dogs, weasels, leopards, tigers, crocodiles, snakes, and even large birds of prey will prey on Rhesus Macaques. However, these crafty monkeys are quick and intelligent, so the predators will have more trouble catching them than other prey.

What does Rhesus Macaque eat?

Rhesus Macaques living in urbanized human areas have a diet based on human food waste, such as leftover food, crops, garbage, grains, and just about anything edible they can get their hands on. They may also eat eggs and small animals like baby chicks, insects, or rodents. Thus, they do not struggle too much when feeding themselves or their young ones.

Rhesus Macaque Predators and Threats

Rhesus Macaques are threatened by carnivorous, predatory animals such as dogs, weasels, leopards, tigers, sharks, crocodiles, snakes, and birds of prey. However, their protective instincts result in them thriving well on treetops or tall buildings if faced with a predator.

Their conservation status is Least Concerned, and even though many other species could not survive human urbanization, these animals fared exceptionally well and continue to do so. Nevertheless, humans often do not welcome them since they disrupt crops, topple over garbage cans, and can be a general nuisance. So some humans might threaten these monkeys as the two continue to co-exist.

Rhesus Macaque Reproduction

Rhesus Macaque males reach reproductive age when they are 4-5 years old, and their sexual drive and reproductive success play a significant role in finding a potential mate. The females reach maturity at 3-4 years of age. At this age, females have plump skin on their faces and genital area. Surprisingly enough, unlike most animals, the females choose whether to have offspring with a member of their troop or to choose a mate from another troop.

Rainy, tropical weather is the ideal mating season for these monkeys. Usually, a single offspring is conceived at a time, and the gestation period lasts six months.

After the infant is born, the females of the troop come together to protect the infant from all outside males, to prevent them from killing the infant. The mother displays remarkable maternal instincts and keeps the offspring close, even within the troop. She spends a considerable amount of time grooming and playing with the infant. She does not hesitate to fight any other monkey that pose a threat to the infant.

After about three weeks, she begins discouraging the baby from suckling and instead encourages them to learn to fend for themselves. More often than not, females give birth every year. However, their fertility eventually declines with age.

Rhesus Macaque Babies

Baby Rhesus Macaques, like all other monkeys, are known as infants. Before one year of age, they feed on their mother’s milk, which they feed on entirely until three weeks and then start to wean off slowly. After the first year, the infants feed on an entirely solid diet.

The infants learn everything from their parents: how to find food, how to climb, and about the troop’s hierarchy. At about 6 months old, they’re fairly independent when it comes to feeding, grooming, and making friends within the group.

Infants are much less hairy than adults and have pale pink skin. Their coat thickens as they age, especially when they hit puberty. Their ears, however, are larger proportionately than adult Rhesus Macaques.

Rhesus Macaque Lifespan

A Rhesus Macaque lives for an average of 20-30 years in the wild. But, in captivity, they have been known to live up to 40 years. This is because in the wild, they are prone to predation and hierarchical fights.

The oldest living Rhesus Macaque recorded to date was a female named Isoko, who turned 43 on April 15, 2020, and was recorded as the “oldest living Rhesus Macaque/monkey in captivity” by the Guinness World Records.

Like all animals, and even humans, they are prone to ailments as they age. The most common cause of death with age is renal/kidney failure. Other possible diseases are:

  • Neoplasia
  • Amyloidosis
  • Diabetes mellitus

Rhesus Macaque Population

While the overall population is unknown for these monkeys, they are found in large troops throughout Asia, particularly in India. No population trends are known as of yet. Even so, this animal has been one of the most adaptable primates. So their numbers are not likely to wane.

Rhesus Macaques In Zoos

Here are some of the locations where you find Rhesus Macaques in zoos.

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About the Author

I have been a freelance writer for the past 2 years. I have a huge love of animals and I love building my knowledge of animals through research. I love sea creatures in particular, my favorite being the octopus because of their intelligence, and I mean, come on, what's not to love! I have a rescue boxer named Dante who is the friendliest pup a man could ask for.

Rhesus Macaque FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How long does a Rhesus Macaque live?

A Rhesus Macaque lives for an average of 20-30 years in the wild. But, in captivity, they have been known to live up to 40 years. This is because in the wild, they are prone to predation and hierarchical fights.

Are Rhesus Macaque friendly?

The Rhesus Macaque is a friendly animal that is not threatened by humans. They inhabit many of the same spaces as humans, so they have gotten used to sharing cities and villages. They usually walk on all fours and can live on land and in trees, depending on their habitat. Rhesus Macaques are diurnal, meaning they are primarily active during the day.

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