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Publication Detail
Why do some primate mothers carry their infant's corpse? A cross-species comparative study
  • Publication Type:
    Journal article
  • Publication Sub Type:
  • Authors:
    Fernández-Fueyo E, Sugiyama Y, Matsui T, Carter AJ
  • Publisher:
    The Royal Society
  • Publication date:
  • Pagination:
  • Journal:
    Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
  • Volume:
  • Issue:
  • Status:
    Published online
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Non-human primates respond to the death of a conspecific in diverse ways, some of which may present phylogenetic continuity with human thanatological responses. Of these responses, infant corpse carrying by mothers (ICC) is the most frequently reported. Despite its prevalence, quantitative analyses of this behaviour are scarce and inconclusive. We compiled a database of 409 published cases across 50 different primate species of mothers' responses to their infants' deaths and used Bayesian phylogenetic regressions with an information-theoretic approach to test hypotheses proposed to explain between- and within-species variation in ICC. We found that ICC was more likely when the infant's death was non-traumatic (e.g. illness) versus traumatic (e.g. infanticide), and when the mother was younger. These results support the death detection hypothesis, which proposes that ICC occurs when there are fewer contextual or sensory cues indicating death. Such an interpretation suggests that primates are able to attain an awareness of death. In addition, when carried, infant age affected ICC duration, with longer ICC observed for younger infants. This result suggests that ICC is a by-product of strong selection on maternal behaviour. The findings are discussed in the context of the evolution of emotion, and implications for evolutionary thanatology are proposed.
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