Heagerty, A., Wales, R. A., Prongay, K. et al. 2017. Social hair pulling in captive rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). American Journal of Primatology 79(12), e22720.
Alopecia is common among captive populations of nonhuman primates. There are many potential causes of alopecia, including physiological conditions such as hormonal imbalance and infection, features of the captive environment such as housing type, ground substrate, and group density, as well as behavioral abnormalities such as self‐plucking. A potential behavioral cause of alopecia in group‐housed primates is social hair pulling, where one animal pulls hair from a conspecific. While social hair pulling has been conflated with overgrooming in some of the alopecia literature, other authors have categorized it as a form of aggression rather than a form of excessive grooming. In this study, we examined social hair pulling, grooming, and aggression within seven groups of rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) (N = 319). We took weekly 30‐min behavioral observations on each group for one year to assess the patterns of hair pulling and grooming, which monkeys were receiving and initiating these behaviors, as well as aggression and other behaviors indicating dominance. We also assessed the amount of alopecia on each individual monthly. While grooming tended to be directed “up” the hierarchy (i.e., monkeys were more likely to groom animals of a higher rank than lower rank), most hair pulling was directed “down” the hierarchy. Further, hair pulling seldom co‐occurred with aggressive behaviors, suggesting that it was not a form of aggression. Hair pulling also usually resulted in ingestion of the pulled hair. Hair pulling was correlated with alopecia; monkeys who were frequent recipients of hair pulling scored higher on monthly alopecia ratings than those who were less often observed having hair pulled. Our results suggest that social hair pulling is a behavior distinct from either grooming or aggressive behavior, and that it may contribute to alopecia in socially housed macaques.