Lemurs! The Lemurs Have Formed A Conspiracy Against Me!

Really, it’s a conspiracy! Despite my intention of taking a blogging vacation I find myself blogging, once again, about lemurs. This particular story is kind of neat and will be familiar to anyone who has read West-Eberhard’s Developmental Plasticity and Evolution (incidentally, this is one of my favorite books on the subject of evolution and I strongly recommend it). National Geographic has the story:

All red-fronted lemurs are born with the same greyish brown fur and rusty-red crowns that distinguish adult males.
At 7 to 17 weeks later, females’ coats change to a cinnamon hue, and their crowns become white.

The problem is there is a lot of female aggression in the species so investigators looked more closely at that:

German researchers monitored a wild lemur population in the Kirindy forest in western Madagascar for five months and recorded behavioral changes as their coats changed color.
But the scientists also faced a problem: Since all infants appear male, the theory that young sport different colorations to thwart conflicts is tricky to investigate.
This led Fichtel and her colleagues to look very closely at older females and monitor their attacks.
They found that males and all young females disguised as males were not targeted by the hostile older females.

Change in pelage occurs around 7-17 weeks of age in female red-fronted lemurs – basically when they are strong enough and independent enough to survive attacks by other females.
The research appears in The American Journal of Physical Anthropology (if anybody out there has access I would be grateful if you could send me a copy). I have the paper now.
Nowt 2 Lemurz: Oh Hai, plz 2 stop bean so scientifical interestin. Srsly, it interruptin mah vacashun! Kthxbai.
Update 1: I just received this cryptic photo in an email. Just goes to show that those of you who thought I lost my mind with this lemur conspiracy allegation are completely wrong…

6 Responses

  1. But all those lemurs are so darn pretty – if you didn’t know they were bitey little beggars, you’d be seriously tempted to rub your hands all over that soft, soft looking fur.
    I think the lemurs haz u undr dere spelz.

  2. You need to be worried. The Lemurs in fact have a black helicopter leasing agreement with the Green Terror Environmentalist conspiracy. Fear is your friend.

  3. Lemurs are indeed fascinating. They also use distinctive vocal calls to communicate. Ring-tailed lemurs make a “contact” call when separated from their group which, to my ears, sounds like the “uh” sound in the unaccented sound in the 1st syllable of “about.” It has a low, falling tone, which is different from the shorter, sharper bark-like sounds they use as warnings and during aggressive encounters.
    Other primates also have distinctive coloration during infancy — at least chimps do. Babies have white fur around the ano-genital area, which is lost as they become juveniles able to leave their mothers for extended periods. Males sometimes attack infants and kill them, apparently to return the mothers to fertile status (so as to breed with them, altho’ this would be an unconscious motivation). Goodall reports on a mother-daughter pair that preyed on the infants of other females during an extended period at Gombe in Tanzania, but this seems to have been an aberration.
    I am unaware of coloration distinctions among baboons but infants in several species are at risk from males that are not their fathers. It is a mystery to me how the fathers are identified, though, since the mothers are promiscuous. But a number of studies suggest that the mothers, at least, know who the fathers are!

  4. By the way, if you would like a good grounding in lemur behavior, or in that of monkeys for that matter, an excellent place to start is with the book, “Primate Societies.” This came out back in 1987, edited by Barbara Smuts, Dorothy Cheney, Robert Seyfarth, Richard Wrangham, and Thomas Struhsaker, all famous experts in primate studies. It was published by the University of Chicago Press, at Chicago, and is available on Amazon, as a large paperback. It has 40 short articles, a few general, but most on specific species, covering a wide variety of primates, including lorises, bushbabies, tarsiers, marmosets, lemurs on Madagascar, howler monkeys, Capuchins, squirrel monkeys, various different types of baboons, gibbons, orangutans, gorillas, chimps, and bonobos. Then there are chapters focusing on various aspects of the animals’ lives, feeding, predation, aspects of social structure, various aspects of male-female relations, and four chapters on communication and intelligence. Even though a great deal more research has been done since, there is so much info in this volume you can’t go wrong buying it. It has many pictures, too, altho’ they are all black and white except for those on the cover.

  5. Yeah, that is a classic. Three other good ones for those who are interested are Primate Paradigms by Fedigan, The Evolution of Primate Behavior by Jolly, and Patterns of Primate Behavior by Bramblett.

  6. Great, thanks. Now there’s even more more on my reading list. Just what I need.
    OT, and depressingly, is the paleontological community putting any pressure on India for this?:

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