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.

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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.

Body language says a lot about who's in charge, such as this silverback eastern lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla)
Courtesy of Ludovic Hirlimann, via Flickr: EOL Images, CC-BY-NC

About Primates (Order Primates): Social Behavior

Most primates live in social groups. While group size ranges from a few to over 100 individuals (depending on species), the composition of a primate group is pretty stable. The hub of the group tends to be females with offspring. Some groups have just one male, the harem leader, who monopolizes females by chasing other males away from a territory. Other groups have multiple males, and may range over areas too large to defend. Regardless, dominance hierarchies are often established in primate groups. The strongest individuals get better access to food or other resources. Primates are constantly picking through each other's fur (grooming). While grooming removes parasites and cleans fur, it may also help maintain social hierarchies. Scientists have found that in some primate societies, subordinate females will groom dominant females in exchange for extra food.

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