Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 141–152

Female mate choice, male migration, and the threat of infanticide in ringtailed lemurs

  • Michael E. Pereira
  • Mark L. Weiss

DOI: 10.1007/BF00180991

Cite this article as:
Pereira, M.E. & Weiss, M.L. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (1991) 28: 141. doi:10.1007/BF00180991


Paternity determination by DNA fingerprinting is reported for a long-term study group of semi-free-ranging ringtailed lemurs (Lemur catta), together with behavioral data collected independently. In 1985, fraternal twin males unfamiliar and unrelated to the resident ringtailed lemurs were introduced to the forest enclosure. Every mature resident male attacked the immigrants frequently across the next 5 months, whereas no female ever did. All observed estrous females showed sexual proceptivity toward the' immigrant males; three solicited copulation exclusively from them. Each female repelled sons, matrilineal brothers, and other resident males from attempting to copulate. Over a 5-year period, four of five females always reproduced with distantly related or unrelated males (Fig. 3). Despite low dominance status throughout the case study, an immigrant sired the off-spring of each female that was proceptive toward only the immigrants, demonstrating that female choice can override male dominance relations to determine reproductive success among male ringtailed lemurs. In the birth season following the 1985–1986 immigration, each of four females targeted one or two particular adult males for consistent attack across the period of infant dependency, beginning days after parturition. Paternity determinations, colony records, and subsequent study of two groups allowed 66 cases of this mode of maternal aggression to be documented. In each, the targeted male had not fathered the protected infant, and almost invariably, he was unrelated to the infant's mother. New mothers attacked every male that immigrated following their infants' conceptions and a few familiar males with whom they had not been seen to copulate during the previous breeding season. Recent attempts by immigrant males to kill infants confirmed the anti-infanticidal function of maternal targeting of males. All results were interpreted together to advance a prospective model of the mating system of ringtailed lemurs. Female avoidance of incest has led to the evolution of natal male dispersal. Subsequently, males should prefer to transfer into groups containing few and/or status-vulnerable males. We predict that, by killing others' infants, males simultaneously increase chances for success in females' next reproductive efforts and terminate current fathers' reproductive eligibility in a group. Basic hypotheses that await testing are that (a) raising an infant through weaning reduces a female's chances for reproductive success the following year and (b) males that demonstrate the capacity to promote the survival of infant offspring are most attractive to females as mates.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael E. Pereira
    • 1
  • Mark L. Weiss
    • 2
  1. 1.Duke University Primate CenterDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyWayne State UniversityDetroitUSA