International Journal of Primatology

, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 715-735

First online:

Do Female Mandrills Prefer Brightly Colored Males?

  • Joanna M. SetchellAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Anthropology, University of CambridgeCentre International de Recherches Médicales Email author 

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Although secondary sexual adornments are widespread in male primates, few studies have examined female choice for these characters. Mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx) present an extreme example of sexual dimorphism, with males exhibiting an array of striking adornments. The most dominant adult male in a group exhibits the brightest and most extensive red coloration, while the other males are less brightly colored. I examined whether female mandrills prefer brightly colored males using data on periovulatory sexual behavior during the 1996 mating season for all males 8 years old (n = 5) and all parous females (n = 9) in a semifree-ranging colony at CIRMF, Gabon. Brightness of male coloration is significantly positively correlated with time spent within 2 m of females, female responsibility for proximity, number of sexual presentations received, % approaches accepted by females, and % inspections with which females cooperated. Females also groomed only the brightest male. Behaviors indicating female preference are not correlated significantly with male dominance rank, and partial correlations confirm that the influence of male color on female behavior is stronger than that of male rank. With the influence of male dominance rank controlled, correlation coefficients between female behaviors and male mating success are high and positive. In further support of the hypothesis that females show mate choice for brightly colored males, independent of dominance rank, I report an unusual case wherein the alpha male fell in rank without loss of coloration. He experienced no significant change in female responsibility for proximity, sexual presentations received, or female reaction to approaches or inspections, though he was no longer observed to mate. Accordingly, female mandrills attend to differences in male secondary sexual characters and favor brightly colored males. As brightly colored males are also dominant this reinforces the influence of male-male competition on male reproductive success and may explain the very high reproductive skew in mandrill males and their extraordinary appearance.


sexual selection female choice proceptivity receptivity coloration