Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 37–45 | Cite as

Sex differences in olfactory communication in a primate, the moustached tamarin, Saguinus mystax (Callitrichinae)

  • Eckward W. Heymann
Original article


This study examines the hypothesis that sexual selection has shaped patterns of olfactory communication in wild moustached tamarins, Saguinus mystax. Do sex differences exist in frequencies and in the intensity of scent marking, in the use of different scent-marking types, and in behavioural responses to scent marks? Scent marking (anogenital, suprapubic, sternal) and behavioural responses (sniffing and overmarking) were recorded in four groups (ten adult and subadult males, seven adult and subadult females in all groups combined) in north-eastern Peru. Frequencies and intensity of scent marking were significantly higher in female tamarins. Males and females did not differ in the use of anogenital marking, but suprapubic marking was employed significantly more often by females. Only 10% of scent marks were monitored by another group member, and only 5% were overmarked by another group member. Most sniffing of scent marks was done by males, and males sniffed at marks produced by females significantly more often than at marks produced by males. Both sexes overmarked scent marks with similar frequency, but females overmarked scent marks produced by males significantly more often than those produced by females. An increase in frequencies of scent marking was observed in two females of one group after the death of the reproducing female, but frequencies of scent marking remained the same in the males of this group. The female-biased rates of scent marking are consistent with predictions made by sexual selection theory for species with substantial male care for offspring and strong reproductive competition between females. However, a decisive test of the proposed role of sexual selection will only be possible with more field data on patterns of olfactory communication in other callitrichine species.

Key words Olfactory communication Scent marking Competition Sexual selection Saguinus mystax 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eckward W. Heymann
    • 1
  1. 1.Abteilung Verhaltensforschung und Ökologie, Deutsches Primatenzentrum, Kellnerweg 4, D-37077 Göttingen, Germany e-mail:, Tel.: +49-551-3851-123, Fax: +49-551-3851-228DE

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