Study authors say primates most likely developed this behavior when they evolved from lemurs 63 million years ago
In the study, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, researchers reviewed 409 instances, across 50 different primates, in which a mother carried her dead baby.
Researchers found that 80 per cent of the different primates studied carried their dead baby, otherwise known as “infant corpse carrying.” Of the 409 cases, 40 mothers had picked up the baby — the majority of which occurred in great apes and Old World monkeys.
“Some primate mothers may also need the same time to deal with their loss, showing how strong and important maternal bonds are for primates, and mammals more generally,” Dr Alecia Carter, a lecturer in evolutionary anthropology at University College London and a study co-author, said in a press release.
The study authors said the primates most likely developed this behavior when they evolved from lemurs 63 million years ago.
After looking at each case, the researchers found that a few factors influenced whether a primate would pick up her dead baby.
Younger mothers were more likely to pick up their baby after they died, compared to older mothers. Also, mothers were more likely to carry their baby if they died from an illness compared to a predator attack or an accident.
The researchers also found that the mother and infant bond influenced how long the mother would carry the baby. The younger the baby was when they died, before reaching half the weaning age, specifically, the longer the mother would carry the child, implying there’s a stronger connection.
“We show that mothers that were more strongly bonded to their infant at death carry the corpse for longer, with emotions possibly playing an important role,” Elisa Fernández Fueyo, a study author from University College London, said in a press release.
Ms Fueyo also said that the primates may have gained an awareness about death and made a conscious decision not to carry their dead baby.