Mom and I recently (last March) went on an impromptu, epic adventure to northern India, visiting some major cities and one very teeny little town called Khajuraho. I’m sure I’ll be posting more about this trip in the future, but for now I want to focus on our day in Panna National Park, a tiger preserve and conservation area near Khajuraho, in Madhya Pradesh. Teak trees filled with eagles and blossom-headed parakeets grow tall in the hills above the Ken River, and the calls of sambar deer warn of tigers stalking through the brush.
And perched in trees watching it all are the gray langurs, big cream-colored monkeys with long tails and black faces, articulate fingers and a bit of fuzz. In their groups of females, a few males, and a bunch of babies, they forage for food, descending from the treetops to search along the ground and the swinging back up into the branches to chew on leaves, fruits, insects, and whatever else they can find that appeals to a monkey’s tastes. While a few members of the group venture earthward for roots and termites, at least one langur stays in the trees as a lookout- they are at their most vulnerable to dholes (wild dogs), leopards, and tigers while on the ground. They’ve adapted quite well in the south of India to urban landscapes, generally feeding on anything they can find and occasionally causing trouble or violence. But the “gray langur” is any of one to 6 or more different species, depending on whose taxonomy you use. What species is this healthy-looking (and irritated) individual?
I guess what I really want to ask is, what is a species? Among the many definitions out there, the one most used in my field of study, ecology, revolves around ability to reproduce- if two individuals live in overlapping areas and can reproduce together to make viable offspring, those individuals are in the same species. But who decides how “viable” those offspring must be, and where do we draw the line? More on this soon- till then, I guess this is probably a Southern Plains Gray Langur (Semnopithecus dussumieri) or, more likely (though out of its range as listed on Wikipedia, fits more in terms of size and morphology) a Northern Plains Gray Langur, Semnopithecus entellus.