Monkey see, monkey do! Japanese macaques saw humans relaxing in natural hot springs and decided to adopt the practice for themselves.
Turns out humans aren’t the only ones who love soaking in hot springs! Japanese macaques – or “snow monkeys” – might enjoy the relaxing ritual even more than we do.
The smart monkeys have been soaking it up, for several hours each day in the winter, for at least 60 years. In the 1950s, the construction of ski resorts forced them from their habitats. They were chased from town to town, until a friendly innkeeper began feeding them in Jigokudani – or “The Valley of Hell” – named for its natural hot springs.
One day in 1961, an apple fell into one of the several hot springs frequented by guests of the inn. “A young monkey tested the steamy water and emerged with the apple,” CNN reports. “He didn’t exit the waters immediately, though, and many of the monkeys looked on as their buddy quietly enjoyed the water. It wasn’t long before other young monkeys began mimicking the water-loving monkey’s behavior.”
In 1964, the valley was transformed into a wildlife park for the snow monkeys, where tourists have been coming to watch them bathe ever since.
As you can see in the video below, the springs appear to put the macaques in an ultra-relaxed state of meditation. Some are so “zen,” they appear to be sleeping.
A recent study confirmed the apes use the hot springs for the same reasons humans do – to warm up and relieve stress.
Snow monkeys live in one of the snowiest places on earth, the mountains of northwestern Japan. No other non-human primate lives that far north. According to the study, the hot springs appear to be helping the monkeys cope with the cold.
Those that spent the most time in the hot springs had the lowest levels of glucocorticoid, a stress hormone created by trying to regulate body temperature in the cold, National Geographic reports.
Females with high social standing including pregnant, nursing and mating females, spend the most time in the springs.
The researchers theorize that, by lowering stress, the baths could benefit the macaques’ likelihood of reproducing, thus helping ensure their survival.