Sneak copulations in long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis): no evidence for tactical deception
Sexual competition is highly prevalent within multi-male multi-female primate groups and may lead to copulations in absence of potentially interfering bystanders. Such avoidance of bystanders may result from tactical deception or from simpler mechanisms such as taking advantage of encountered situations without bystanders, operant conditioning or a peripheral positioning of non-alpha males. We investigated which individuals are avoided as bystanders, how individuals react to the presence of bystanders and whether copulation partners separate themselves from the group in a tactical way. Our observations of a group of 15 female and seven male long-tailed macaques housed in three interconnected, but visually separated compartments revealed that both males and females can interrupt sexual behaviour and that bystanders of both sexes were avoided during copulations (n = 256). The strength of the effect of bystanders tended to decrease with the dominance rank of male bystanders, but did not depend on the dominance rank of female bystanders. The audience effects of non-alpha individuals did not depend on the strong audience effect of the alpha male in combination with proximity with the alpha male. The effects that we found for separate bystanders suggest that sexual competition concerns rank dependent male–male competition and rank independent female–female competition. Additionally, both male and female copulation partners paid attention to the presence of bystanders and conducted fewer copulation solicitations in their presence. The timing of a male and female’s separation from the group suggests that exploitation of the peripheral position of non-alpha males, and not tactical deception, may cause these audience effects.