White-faced Capuchin

Associated Smithsonian Expert: Darrin P. Lunde, M.A.

Darrin Lunde on an expedition to the Bandalla Hills of South Sudan in the summer of 2013

Courtesy of Oliver Bench

Darrin Lunde is Collections Manager in the Division of Mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The Mammal Collection is the largest collection of its kind in the world. Darrin started his career by building his own natural history museum when he was just ten years old, and by the time he went to college, he had mastered specimen preservation. After graduating from Cornell University, Darrin was hired by the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where he stayed for twenty years joining field expeditions to the remote corners of South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. He has discovered dozens of new species and shed light on hundreds of other lesser known mammals. Darrin earned a Master of Arts from the City University of New York and much of his interest in museums stems from having grown up in "nature deprived" New York City. To Darrin, museum collections are an important link to nature, and he is driven by the thought that in another century museums may be our only connection to the wild animals we take for granted today. At the Smithsonian, Darrin continues a program of active field work with his goal being to illuminate the rich diversity of mammals with which we still share the world.

Meet our associated expert

This image was obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. The image or its contents may be protected by international copyright laws.
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Primates, like this Siamang (Hylobates syndactylus), have complex verbal communication
Courtesy of suneko, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY

About Primates (Order Primates): Senses

Primates have really big brains relative to their body size if you compare them to other animals, even other mammals. The sheet of cells that forms the outer layer of mammal brains (the neocortex) is greatly enlarged. This neocortex is the newest part of the brain to evolve, and beneath it is a primitive brain similar to a reptile's brain (the medulla). As the center for memory, creative thinking, spatial reasoning, language, and conscious thought, the neocortex is what makes primates smart. A human being has the highest ratio of neocortex to medulla of any animal. Much of primate intelligence comes to play in social and learning behavior. Scientists believe the extreme development of the neocortex may be an adaptation for the advanced cooperation (e.g. for hunting) that takes place in primate societies. Sustained social interactions require that primates remember a lot of information about each other.

Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) mother and calf
Courtesy of Joel Garlich-Miller, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, public domain

About Mammals (Class Mammalia): Parental Care

Thanks to their ability to produce milk, female mammals are able to feed their offspring for weeks, months, or even years after they are born. This sets the stage for the extended childhoods of many mammal offspring. With food and shelter taken care of (by the mother in most species), a remarkable amount of learning occurs for mammal offspring before they become independent. Elephants tend to their young for as long as 10 years, and humans for longer still. Young mammals may learn about food, shelter, migration routes, social structures, or other keys to survival from their parents. While extended childhoods support learning, they are costly, especially for the female. Lactating females must consume enough calories to feed their offspring and maintain themselves. Offspring that stay around after weaning from their mother's milk may still require protection and food. Human offspring are the most extreme case of investment, with parents usually providing intensive support until age 18 and continuing support beyond.