Warning: Graphic Cuteness ahead. Side effects may include babytalk or outright incoherence. Prolonged exposure may trigger reminders of Biological Clock. Fertile couples are advised against viewing. Continue at your own discretion.
Monkeys are ugly. It’s a fact. They are simply aesthetically unappealing. It’s empirical. Anyone who says otherwise is either lying or clearly never seen a monkey up close.
White-faced capuchins are, anyway. There are things like tamarins and marmosets that look like little gnomes, but capuchins and most Cebids fall into an uncanny valley of anthropomorphic characteristics. They have humanlike features, but animal proportions–their faces protrude, their eyes are sunken and beady. Their lips stretch and their teeth are gapped and pointed. Their hands look like ours from a distance, but up close the fingers are too long and clawed.
But the babies, however, are just too damn stinkin’ cute. They check all the boxes for triggering the protecting instinct in humans: the large eyes, bulging forehead, and massive sideways ears that combine to tell us that the animal in question is adorable. That it is immature, helpless, curious, vulnerable, and needs our attention. The aesthetic is selected for and programmed into us, so strongly that it can cross species boundaries. You look at this thing, and your primitive mind tells you, “Aww!”
But it’s also their mannerisms. Baby monkeys act very much like, well, baby humans. The growth and development might be a little sped up, but monkeys pass through the same stages of infant, baby, toddler, child, and adolescent that we do, and tend to behave the same along the way.
For the first day or so of their lives, monkeys do little more than cling to their mother and try to sleep off the first impressions of the world they’ve just been put into. But once they start to open their eyes and move around, they are like rugrats. They clamber over anything and anyone with clumsy gait but strong grip. The world is their jungle gym, whether it be over branches, rocks, or their own relatives. Other monkeys, trying to sleep or eat, may attempt to discourage them with a light slap or reel them in by the tail, but there is no truly stopping a baby monkey for long. The energy is inexhaustible. Even when they’re sitting still, they’re often pulling their own tail or counting their own toes. I watched one play with a blade of grass, bopping it back and forth while its exhausted mother took a much-appreciated nap.
And then there’s the mouth stuff. Monkey babies, like human babies, will put their mouth on anything that they can’t fit into their mouth with their own hands. They try to explore their world by taste and texture, ignorant of health and hygiene. When they’re not nursing, they’re eating. When they’re not eating, they’re licking. When they’ve found nothing to imbibe, they’re just sticking their tongue out as if daring the universe to put something in their open mouth.
But the most human thing I’ve seen them do is the staring. Monkeys, like most animals, avoid direct eye contact for long. It’s considered provocative by most social animal standards, something only done among close relatives and allies. But babies stare. Like, deep into your soul stare. A constant, steady, wide-eyed, whites-showing gaze that suggests they are committing every detail of you to memory. It combines curiosity, surprise, and suspicion into one piercing package.
This makes sense. Monkeys live complex lives, and rely on many inputs to survive day to day. They eat a wide variety of foods which must be studied and analyzed for ripeness or edibility. They move about in a chaotic and vertical environment where slipping would mean falling to your death. They rely on complicated social structure based on hierarchy and cues. All this means that they must adapt quickly to many factors and sensations, all stored in a relatively large brain. Much like humans do.
Babies–humans and monkeys alike, have to deathstare and stick things in their mouths. It’s the best way to find out what things are and what’s safe to eat. They have to clamber over objects and relatives–they have to learn how to move and explore. And also test the limits of patience of the adults in their lives.
So it’s no surprise that we pick up on many similarities during development. And sometimes some wires get crossed and we pick up on their developmental cues. Especially when those babies are being just so dang wompin’ cute. I mean, come on!