Why These Vegetarian Monkeys Have Sharp Predator Teeth

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Mountain Gorillas and Chimpanzees definitely seem to steal the show but high up in the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia, one finds a very unique and bizarre species of primate.The Geladas are unique for many reasons: firstly they live at an incredibly high altitude above 4000 metres.

image credit: gregdutoit

That is almost a kilometer higher than the top of the Drakensburg Mountain range in South Africa! Secondly, although Geladas have incredibly long canines, like other baboons in Africa, they are almost exclusively grazers. Yes, you read correct, they eat grass!

image credit: elelur

Male geladas’ outsize canines aren’t used for hunting. Instead they’re used when fighting, threatening other males, or defending themselves against predators. Geladas’ specialized molars are unlike those of other living primates and help the monkeys grind grass.

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The geladas of the Ethiopian Highlands are often mistaken for baboons but are actually the last members of their own genus, Theropithecus. The unique morphology, diet, and behavior of the world’s only grass-eating monkeys are helping scientists hunt for clues about primate evolution.

In the Ethiopian highlands, native Geladas have impressive canines despite being grass eaters. The reason is simple: The males need to defend themselves and their group against potential challengers.