Fe­male mon­keys use wile to rally troops

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Fe­male vervet mon­keys ma­nip­u­late males into fight­ing bat­tles by lav­ish­ing at­ten­tion on brave sol­diers while giv­ing non­com­bat­ants the cold shoul­der, re­searchers said on yes­ter­day.

After a skir­mish with a ri­val gang, usu­ally over food, fe­males would groom males that had fought hard­est, while snap­ping at those that ab­stained. When the next bat­tle came along, both those sin­gled out for at­ten­tion and those ag­gres­sively shunned would par­tic­i­pate more vig­or­ously in com­bat, ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished in the jour­nal Pro­ceed­ings of the Royal So­ci­ety B.

Fe­male groom­ing and ag­gres­sion “both ap­pear to func­tion as so­cial in­cen­tives that ef­fec­tively pro­mote male par­tic­i­pa­tion in in­ter­group fights”, a re­search team from Switzer­land and South Africa re­ported. They had ob­served four vervet mon­key groups at a game re­serve in South Africa for two years.

Vervet mon­keys live in mixed-gen­der groups and both sexes take part in fre­quent bat­tles with ri­val troupes. Only a hand­ful fight each time. Males are larger than fe­males and have longer ca­nine teeth, mak­ing their pres­ence valu­able in the front lines.

Suc­cess in bat­tle en­sures con­trol over ter­ri­tory and food sources-a key con­cern for fe­males, who take care of the young. But why would males risk in­volve­ment in a po­ten­tially high-stakes bat­tle just for a bit of fe­male at­ten­tion? It’s all about sex, the re­searchers believe. “Re­ceiv­ing pun­ish­ment” from fe­males for not tak­ing part in bat­tles “could dam­age the... male’s so­cial re­la­tion­ship(s)” ei­ther with the fe­male in ques­tion or “other fe­male group mem­bers”, the re­searchers wrote.

On the other hand, be­ing re­warded could “po­ten­tially sig­nal to other fe­male group mem­bers that the... male is a valu­able so­cial part­ner”, likely boost­ing “male mat­ing suc­cess”.

In group an­i­mals, such as hu­mans, a del­i­cate bal­ance must be main­tained be­tween par­tic­i­pat­ing in hunt­ing or de­fense, which can be risky, and free-rid­ing, which is less haz­ardous but can lead to so­cial re­jec­tion. The riski­est group ac­tiv­ity of all is war­fare, and few an­i­mals other than hu­mans and mon­keys en­gage in it. — AFP

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