Primates and Diet

Mid-digit Hair
Mid-digit Hair

Hello everybody,

The next several posts will include the lesson plans we used for the UA partnership with the Tuscaloosa Magnet School. This semester the classes were taught by Taylor Burbach, Meghan Steel, and Erica Schumann, with the direction of graduate student Greg Batchelder. Enjoy!

Week 5: Primates and Diet

Topic: Primate Diet

One of the ways that physical anthropologists learn about people is to study our nearest living relatives – primates. Primates include any member of the group of animals that includes human beings, apes, and monkeys. Learning about how primates navigate their world helps us understand the challenges and survival strategies that humans had to face in the past.

Primatologists, or specialists who study primates, are especially interested in learning how primates address one of the biggest issues that we all face: how to feed your family. Each primate species has a different from of social organization, although all primate species have to figure out how to survive against the odds. This week’s activity will ask each student group to come up with a survival strategy that protects their young while gathering food.

Discussion: Primates

  • Primates- any member of the group of animals that includes human beings, apes, and monkeys.
  • Ape: closely related to monkeys and humans and that is covered in hair and has no tail or a very short tail
    1. Chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, bonobos, and humans
  • Monkey: smaller bodied, with tails, some monkeys have different dental formula
    1. Old World monkeys: baboons, macaques, colobus monkeys, etc.
      1. No prehensile tail
    2. New World monkeys: spider monkeys, marmosets, howler monkeys, etc.
      1. Do have prehensile tails


  1. Social organization: What drives primate social organization?
    • Competition for mates, safety, social organization, form of paternal care
    • Advantages & disadvantages to larger group sizes?
      1. Protection, shared care of young, etc.
    • Advantages & disadvantages to smaller group sizes?
  2. Diet:
    • Carnivore, omnivore, herbivore
    • Most primates are herbivores, omnivores, or opportunistic carnivores.
      1. Cannibalism occurs
    • Foods have different caloric values, which means that some foods are “worth” more than others.
      1. E.g., fruit is high calorie, high carb. Leafy greends may have important nutrients but low calorie counts. Other foods may be good food sources but are hard to catch (like crickets).
      2. Primates have to strategize to balance energy expenditure and food intake. This is even more important with large social groups, who may share resources.

 Activity: Meddling Monkey Scavenger Hunt

This game replicates the choices that primates make with regard to food security, group safety, and survival. Students will be separated into groups (each a different primate species) with a set number of primate infants per group.

Objective: Gather as many calories as possible while protecting the infants in your group.


  • Search the “forest” (classroom) to find as many calories as you can and bring them back to the troop.
  • Primates can only carry one food item since they are not bipedal.
  • Students can steal food that is unguarded. They can also steal unguarded infant primates.
  • To be protected from stealing food or infants, two people must be at the “home base.”
    • One person is not enough to protect it.
  • However, student groups can choose to leave as few or as many people at the nest as they wish.
  • At the end of the time, groups will reunite and scores will be added up.
  • A group automatically loses if all of their infants are stolen.


Construction paper fruit (yellow and red)                                             Value: 5 points

Construction paper leaves/stems (green)                                            Value: 1 point

Construction paper insects (ants, grubs, and protein)                     Value: 3 points

Construction paper primate infants.                                                        Value: 10 points

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