Breitenbach, R., Ambros, S., Risko, G. et al. 2023. The importance of auditory, olfactory, and visual cues for insect foraging in owl monkeys (Aotus nancymaae). American Journal of Primatology 85(10), e23539.

Nocturnal mammals have unique sensory adaptations to facilitate foraging at night. Owl monkeys (Aotus spp.) are pair-living nocturnal platyrrhines adept at capturing insect prey under low-light conditions. Owl monkeys use acoustic and chemical cues in intraspecific communication and use olfaction to detect fruit as they forage. We conducted an experiment to determine which cues (auditory, olfactory, and visual) Aotus nancymaae rely upon when foraging for insects. We scored the behavior of 23 captive owl monkeys during a series of trials in which monkeys were provided sensory boxes with insect cues either present (experimental box) or absent (control box). Each cue was tested alone and in combination with all other cues (multimodal cues). We used generalized linear mixed models to determine which cues elicited the greatest behavioral response. Owl monkeys approached and spent more time near experimental boxes than control boxes. Male owl monkeys were quicker than their female partners to approach the sensory boxes, suggesting that males may be less neophobic than females. The owl monkeys exhibited behaviors associated with olfaction and foraging (e.g., sneezing, trilling) during trials with multimodal cues and when only olfactory cues were present. When only visual or auditory cues were present, owl monkeys exhibited fewer foraging-related behaviors. After approaching a sensory box, however, they often touched boxes containing visual cues. A. nancymaae may rely on olfactory cues at night to detect a food source from several meters away and then rely more on visual cues once they are closer to the food source. Their use of sensory cues during insect foraging differs from nocturnal strepsirrhines, possibly reflecting physiological constraints associated with phylogeny, given that owl monkeys evolved nocturnality secondarily from a more recent diurnal ancestor.