Primate Sustenance and Social Order: A Brief Analysis

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The continuous search of food is the single most important and common trait of any animal species. Like a car without gas, without food, there is no energy for survival. Each variety of species has its own evolutional adaptations to assist in the acquiring’s and processing of food. Primates have anatomical specializations for their four primary diets; fruit, leaves, gum and insects. These food sources can be commonly found in the natural habitat of primates, which is mostly the canopy of tropical trees. The primate consumes these foods as a source of energy to sustain survival. Physiologically, the body breaks down the nutrients and calories in these foods for usage. However, different foods require different means of attainment and different effects on the development and growth of the body. This paper compares and contrasts the anatomical specializations of the four primary diets in primates.

Fossil evidence shows the earliest primates were evolved from small insectivores; species that feed mainly on insects. The morphological traits that specifically help with this diet are a keen stereoscopic vision and manipulative use of the fingers. But, because insects are so small and difficult to hunt down in a forest canopy, very few species of primates can be sustained solely on insects. Being surrounded by a forest in their natural habitat, plant sources for food have served as a second option. Because of the wide variety of plants that could be consumed, the primate class of species naturally divided into the wide variety seen today (Milton, 2003). Plants in the primate habitat offer a great source of nutrition both from their leaves and their fruits. It is commonly assumed that apes and gorillas are wild animals that consume animal matter. But with such an extensive natural catalog of foods and the dangers of consuming raw meat, it is clear to see why the primate is a mostly anthropoids. In addition to insects, leaves and fruits, the primate is also a consumer of gum. Some New World monkeys feed primarily on the calorie enriched plant gums and saps from trees, with supplemental nutrients from insects and fruits. Larger primates will focus primarily on fruits and seeds with the occasional eggs from other animal species. Some animals, like the chimpanzee, hunt and kill wild animals for food consumption, but such a food option is difficult due to the process of finding and hunting down the animal food source. As a result, the primate’s mostly vegetarian diet may be because of the difficulty in hunting as opposed to simply a natural appeal to fruits and plant leaves. All in all, the primate’s arms manipulative dexterity and the readily availableness of plants determined the naturally evolving diet of the primate group of species. But as the nutrition from the fruits and plants sharply increased the rate of neurological development, primates (and then humans) primates are able to learn how to manipulate the sources around them to their advantage (Diamond). This leads to some of the earliest forms of social organization.

The process of evolution continuously takes place in the natural habitat of primates. Whereas the earliest of primates originated from as an insect eating species, most primates have evolved to consume mostly an herbalist diet. After a long time of nutrient rich dieting, primates were not only able to evolve physically, they were also able to evolve mentally with some surprising capabilities. Primates are among the first species to use their brainpower to solve important dietary problems. As a result, social organization and division of labor is introduced (O’Neil, 2006). Where it could be played “every primate for themselves”, the primates instead choose to use their brain power together and divide labor in order to collectively meet their needs. The most common pattern of primate social organization is a multimale-multifemale group which involves a dominance hierarchy among both males and females of the same gender. Generally, the strongest male and females will be the leaders of this social organization while the others adopt submissive roles. The group words towards their common goal of sustenance by dividing labor and stockpiling resources. Commonly, a female’s rank in the hierarchy stays with her throughout life. However, changing ecological conditions might disturb the natural organization for sustenance and lead to a revolt to change the social order. If the ecological conditions sharply decrease the amount of food in the environment, a female primate may sacrifice the order to sustain herself or her young ones. Ultimately, as it was stated in the beginning of the paper, food acquiring and sustenance is the fundamental aspect of life. Therefore, if ecological conditions shifted so that food was no longer readily available (rainforest clearing or etc.), then a collapse of the primal social order is most definitely probable. And without social order, the group or species will likely face a much more rigorous task of survival. 


Diamond, J. M. (1998). Guns, germs, and steel: the fates of human societies. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Milton, K. (2003).  Animals: Primate Diets Study Guide & Homework Help - Reference - Study Guides, Lesson Plans, Homework Help, Answers & More - Retrieved from

O'Neil, D. (2006). Primate Behavior - Social Structure. Retrieved from