Male ring-tailed lemurs often use their scent as a display of dominance when quarreling with other males, but they might also use their scent when attempting to seduce female mates.
While the former use of their scent is well-documented, the latter method isn’t so much. A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Toronto Scarborough is one of the first to investigate this behavior up close. They've published their findings in the American Journal of Primatology.
Image Credit: IanZA/Pixabay
Curious about how this works? Well, it's simple really...
A dominant male ring-tailed lemur will rub its scent into its tail before 'fanning' it toward a potential female mate with the hope that he'll win her heart. The female then smells the scent and reacts to it one of two ways: positively or negatively.
But while the process itself where the male shares its scent with the female is simple, understanding the driving mechanisms behind this behavior and the resulting consequences is a challenging task for experts; hence the study to learn more.
"Stink-flirting displays are done more often by dominant males," explained study lead author Amber Walker-Bolton from the University of Toronto Scarborough’s Department of Anthropology.
"This behavior 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 behavior."
As we just said, this display of dominance can go either way – if the attempt doesn't woo the female, then the male not only relinquishes his lust but could also experience increased aggression from other male ring-tailed lemurs from the group that the female resides in.
The study underscores how rank could have something to do with the behavior. The researchers noticed that outsider males were more likely to perform these stink-flirting rituals than those that huddled with the group on a regular basis.
Almost like a reminder to the females saying, ‘hey, don’t forget about me, I’m still here,’ the stink-flirting displays could be a way for the males to let the females know that even the outsider males are prepared and looking for mates.
On the other hand, members of the group don't typically appreciate outsider competition, which might justify the increased aggression from both males and females whenever a stink-flirting attempt backfires.
"One morning I was watching a huddle and saw an outsider male approach and try to waft his tail to a female. 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," Walker-Bolton continued.
"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. 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."
There’s still so much to learn about how these stink-flirting displays work and how successful they turn out in the long run. Fortunately, this is only the first of many studies putting this behavior in its crosshairs.
Perhaps future studies will answer the remaining questions about these kinds of displays among ring-tailed lemurs.