Ring-tailed lemurs engage in ‘stink-flirting’ to attract mates

'It's a costly thing to do since it can end in such a gruesome fight,' says lead researcher Amber Walker-Bolton

Lydia Smith
Saturday 18 November 2017 16:41
Comments
Ring-tailed lemurs are social animals and live in large groups dominated by females
Ring-tailed lemurs are social animals and live in large groups dominated by females

It would be a novel and likely unsuccessful approach for most, but "stink flirting", or the spraying of a smelly scent, seems to work for the male ring-tailed lemur when it comes to attracting a mate.

However, the first in-depth study of the creatures' behaviour also established that it can lead to friendships dissolving between males.

“Stink-flirting displays are done more often by dominant males,” said the study's lead author Amber Walker-Bolton, of the University of Toronto’s department of Anthropology.

“This behaviour is also very costly because these males are met with higher levels of aggression than if they were to do other types of scent-marking. So there's definitely something unique about this type of behaviour.”

Ring-tailed lemurs are social animals and live in large groups which are dominated by females.

Like other types of lemurs, the primates maintain social bonds with lower-ranking mates often excluded.

Scent is important to ring-tailed lemurs and males use their scent glands to mark territory and engage in “stink-fighting” – where they rub their tails in their scent before waving it at an opponent.

But “stink-flirting” is less understood.

“One morning I was watching a huddle and saw an outsider male approach and try to waft his tail to a female,” said Ms Walker-Bolton, who did her research at the Berenty Reserve in Madagascar.

“Well, right away he was met with all this aggression from the group, and it made me question why they would go through this just to be met with a negative result.”

Although dominant males – from within and without the group – engage in stink-flirting the most, outsider males perform the ritual at a higher rate.

But as a result, they're also met with much higher rates of aggression from females and other males.

“It could be a way for them to show their rank or it may simply be an alternative mating strategy in terms of transferring to a new group to gain mating opportunities,” said Walker-Bolton, whose research is published in the American Journal of Primatology.

“One thing is for sure, there's a lot of aggression directed towards them, and it's a costly thing to do since it can end in such a gruesome fight.”

It is difficult to measure the success of “stink-flirting” when it comes to actual mating, but Ms Walker-Bolton said it was common for a female lemur to lash out and slap an opposing male across the face.

She was also able to measure how often females presented themselves, a mark of how receptive they were to the displays.

“Females don't present every time, and they don't present to every male, but it's interesting that males who engaged in a greater number of stink-flirting displays were presented to more often,” she said.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in