"Cross Dressing" Lemurs Appear Male to Avoid Conflict

July 24, 2008

Young female red-fronted lemurs in Madagascar adopt male coloration to dupe their aggressive female groupmates, a new study found.

These "cross dressing" primates thus avoid the wrath of older females, which would attack them to reduce sexual competition.

All red-fronted lemurs are born with the same greyish brown fur and rusty-red crowns that distinguish adult males.

At 7 to 17 weeks later, females' coats change to a cinnamon hue, and their crowns become white.

"We knew from our longer-term observations that there was a lot of female aggression in red-fronted lemurs," said study author Claudia Fichtel of the University of Göttingen's German Primate Center.

"Females compete fiercely over limited breeding opportunities, and we wanted to know if hiding femininity was a way to avoid being attacked," Fitchtel said.

(See a photo of an endangered ring-tailed lemur.)

Not a Target

German researchers monitored a wild lemur population in the Kirindy forest in western Madagascar for five months and recorded behavioral changes as their coats changed color.

But the scientists also faced a problem: Since all infants appear male, the theory that young sport different colorations to thwart conflicts is tricky to investigate.

This led Fichtel and her colleagues to look very closely at older females and monitor their attacks.

They found that males and all young females disguised as males were not targeted by the hostile older females.

Continued on Next Page >>


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