Standardized descriptions of primate locomotor and postural modes


As quantitative studies on primate positional behavior accumulate the lack of a standard positional mode terminology is becoming an increasingly serious deficiency. Inconsistent use of traditional terms and inappropriate conflation of mode categories hamper interspecific and interobserver comparisons. Some workers use common terms without definition, allowing at least the possibility of misunderstanding. Other researchers coin neologisms tailored to their study species and not clearly enough defined to allow application to other species. Such neologisms may overlap, may completely encompass, or may conflate previously defined labels. The result is, at best, the proliferation of synonyms and, at worst, the creation of confusion where clarity had existed. Historical precedents have sometimes resulted in “catch-all” terms that conflate any number of kinematically different behaviors (e.g. “brachiation,” “climbing,” and “quadrumanous climbing”). We recognize three areas where distinction of positional modes has some current importance: (1) Modes that require humeral abduction should be distinguished from adducted behaviors; (2) locomotor modes that involve ascent or descent should be distinguished from horizontal locomotor modes; and (3) suspensory modes should be distinguished from supported modes. We recommend a nomenclature that is not dedicated to or derived from any one taxonomic subset of the primates. Here we define 32 primate positional modes, divided more finely into 52 postural sub-modes and 74 locomotor sub-modes.

Document Type





locomotion, posture, positional mode

Publication Date


Journal Title