LadyBoss Macaque: Long May She Reign!


Photo of face of Japanese macaque monkey Yakei, a rare alpha female.Empress Yakei, Alpha Japanese Macaque
(Macaca fuscata a.k.a. Snow Monkey)

(image: Takasakiyama Natural Zoological Garden)

(via New York Times email briefing):

Yakei, a female Japanese snow monkey who lives in a nature reserve, violently overthrew a trio of high-ranking males (and her own mother) to move up the ranks and become the first female leader in the reserve’s 70-year history. Yakei’s ascent to alpha status surprised both scientists and reserve workers, who are now closely observing her reign.

But mating season could endanger her grip on power. “Mating season generally heats things up in Japanese macaque society,” one primatologist explained. “The environment becomes more competitive and tense.”

Intriguing, no? Not intriguing enough to make me buy a Times subscription to read the paywalled article, but definitely intriguing enough to make me go looking for other (free) sources.

The first one I found is at Live Science; it was posted a day ago and appears to be 100% based on the Times article. Indeed, why read the Times article when you can read an article about the Times article? In it we learn some interesting details:

In southern Japan, a young female macaque has upended societal norms by seizing control of her 677-member troop through a violent primate coup. Now, her hard-won empire could come crumbling down around her due to one unstoppable force: mating season.

Meet Yakei, a 9-year-old female living in a Japanese macaque reserve called the Takasakiyama Natural Zoological Garden, where she has spent the last year reigning as the first female troop leader in the park’s 70-year history.

If it’s been a year, doesn’t that mean she has already survived one mating season with her alpha status intact?

…After assaulting her own mother and assuming the role of top female in the troop, Yakei embarked on a violent vendetta against her troop’s four highest-ranking males, finally assuming the troop’s coveted alpha position after beating up Nanchu — an elderly, 31-year-old male who had ruled the troop for five years.

After toppling the top male, Yakei even started to exhibit traditionally male behaviors, such as walking with her tail up and shaking tree branches with her body, experts at the reserve said.

Yakei be strutting her badass self! But there may be trouble brewing in paradise – and it is paradise. The macaques live in mountain forests in the center of their island reserve, roaming freely until it’s time to come down to grab some grub from the wardens. But the reason they’re called “snow monkeys” is because in winter when it snows, they hang out in hot springs. (This makes no sense to me: shouldn’t they be called hot spring monkeys?)

A Japanese macaque bathing in a hot spring in winter.A Japanese macaque bathing in a hot spring in winter.
(image credit: Mark Fox/Getty Images)

However, after nearly a year in the top spot, Yakei’s position may be in jeopardy during the chaos that is mating season — which typically runs from November to March.

She’s made it halfway through…so far.

According to reserve researchers, an 18-year-old male named Luffy has been making unwanted courtship advances on Yakei since this year’s breeding season began. Queen Yakei, meanwhile, seems to regard Luffy with fear.

Ugh. Luffy. What a creep. Yakei’s busy ruling the troop, and Luffy keeps pestering her for sex.

(See, shit like this is why I generally disagree with scientists who caution that we should not anthropomorphize other animals. My hypothesis: the aforementioned scientists are mostly men and/or patriarchal women, and they do not like what they discover by the analogy to humans – unless it happens to “support” their notions of male supremacy, of course. IOW, mucho cherrypicking and flagrant misuse of science and reason. But I digress.)

“I observed that Yakei showed a facial expression (known as ‘fear grimace’) typical of subordinate individuals against Luffy,” [research fellow at the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, Yu] Kaigaishi told the Times in an email. “Also, I observed Luffy pushing Yakei away to monopolize food.”

Christ, what a dick.

It’s possible that Luffy is in the process of dethroning Yakei to rise as the troop’s new alpha, the researchers said. Or, this could just be a simple matter of courtship, with Yakei showing Luffy that she isn’t buying into his monkeyshines.


For now, Yakei holds onto her proverbial crown.

Meanwhile, over at The Guardian, the first thing we learn is that the “news” of Yakei’s coup is over five months old. (In fact, I’m not sure the word meanwhile is even appropriate here.) We also learn that Yakei weighs 10 kg (22 lbs.), and that “she challenged and roughed up Sanchu [sic? the Times calls him “Nanchu”], the 31-year-old alpha male who had been leader of ‘troop B’ at the reserve for five years.”

Here is how the researchers determine who exactly is at the top of a troop hierarchy:

[W]ardens at Takasakiyama, where there has never been a female monkey boss in the reserve’s 70-year history, carried out a “peanut test” on 30 June, putting out nuts for the group and seeing who ate first. Sanchu [Nanchu?] backed away and gave Yakei first dibs on the treat, confirming her alpha status.

Now this would never work with me, since I am not exactly a big fan of peanuts. However, if instead Belgian dark chocolate were involved, I would absolutely beat up my own mother and anyone else who dared to get in my way.

I think Empress Yakei should have a real crown, not just a proverbial one. And a scepter to bash Luffy.

same photo as previous japanese macaque Yakei with clipart crown and scepter


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    How did Luffy, in the middle of Japan, get a name beginning with a consonant the Japanese never (hardly ever?) use?

  2. Ridana says

    Monkey D. Luffy is a character aiming to be King of the Pirates in the very popular manga/anime One Piece (1000+ episodes over 20 years). I’m fairly confident that the macaque is named for him.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Ridana @ # 2 – Thanks! It appears Luffy’s namesake strives for but never quite reaches the top – auspicious for Empress Yakei.

  4. lanir says

    An interesting follow-up question is why, if Yakei is exhibiting some behaviors they typify as male, do they think it’s a male thing and not a dominance thing?

    Or are they suggesting Yakei identifies as male? That would seem to be a very involved topic for an individual we don’t share a common (verbal) language with.