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Barbary Macaque

Macaca sylvanus

Barbary Macaque


The Barbary macaque is covered in thick fur that ranges in color from yellowish-gray to darker grayish-brown. The chest and stomach are lighter than the rest of the body, and the face is usually dark pink. The most noticeable feature of this macaque is its very short tail. Males reach a length of about 24 inches and weight of 35 pounds, while females have a maximum length of about 18 inches and weight of 24 pounds.

Distribution and Habitat

The Barbary is the only macaque outside of Asia, and the only non-human primate in Europe. The largest population is found in the Middle and High Atlas mountains and in the Rif mountain regions of Morocco. Another population lives in the Tellian Atlas mountains of Algeria, and a population of about 200 Barbary macaques lives on Gibraltar.

Although they prefer high altitude habitats, up to 8,530 feet, Barbary macaques can also be found at sea level. Their primary habitat is cedar forests, but they are also found in mixed forests of cedar and oak, pure oak forests, shrubby rock outcrops along coasts, and occasionally in grasslands at low elevations. The Barbary macaques on Gibraltar occasionally invade populated areas, where they have been known to make nuisances of themselves by stealing food and "teasing" humans.


The diet of Barbary macaques changes seasonally. During spring, they eat various vegetation and feast on caterpillars that live in oak tress. By summer, fruits are plentiful, along with other small seeds, roots, and fungi. Barbary macaques on Gibraltar have also learned how to take advantage of food left behind by humans, although they tend to only go after human foods that sre similar to what they eat in the wild.


Both males and females are promiscuous. Females initiate and terminate matings and compete with each other for mates. By the time the breeding season (November and December) ends, each female will have likely mated with all or nearly all males in her troop. Although male Barbary macaques have little influence over who they mate with, dominant individuals tend to mate more often than subordinates and tend to mate more with dominant females.

Gestation lasts for about 164 days, and a single offspring is usually born between April and June. The young are weaned after 12 months, and reach sexual maturity at 2.5 to 4 years old in females and 4.5 to 7 years old in males. Females stay with their natal groups, while males almost always move to other troops.

The entire troop, males and females alike, takes part in caring for infants. In general, males appear to show preference to male infants. Young-adult males tend to develop strong bonds with male infants, and older adult males prefer to take care of any infants from high-ranking females. Females appear to show mating preference to males that provide the most paternal care to their offspring.

Barbary macaques typically live about 22 years in the wild.

Other Social Behaviors

An average troop has 24 individuals, but can contain up to 60, and consist of a 1:1 male-female ratio.

Males and females form their own hierarchies. Female hierarchies are strictly matrilinear, and each female holds a specific rank with the troop. Newborn daughters inherit the next highest position under her mother, above their older sisters and others in the troop. Females protect social status via aggression, and rank is relatively stable and rarely changes. Male have looser dominance hierarchies and show less aggression towards one another. Compared to most primates, Barbary macaques are relatively peaceful. Most aggressive interactions are restricted to chases and retreats, and 20% of aggressive acts are followed by mutual "acts of forgiveness."

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
class Mammalia
order Primates
suborder Haplorrhini
family Cercopithecidae
genus & species Macaca sylvanus

Animal Diversity Web

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The Robinson Library >> Science >> Zoology >> Mammals >> Order Primates

This page was last updated on March 26, 2018.