Dominance, coloration, and social and sexual behavior in male drills Mandrillus leucophaeus

Jill S. Marty, James P. Higham, Elizabeth L. Gadsby, Caroline Ross

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Sexual selection has driven the evolution and elaboration of a wide variety of displays and ornaments in male nonhuman primates, including capes, cheek flanges, and sexual coloration. Among the most sexually dimorphic of all primates is the drill (Mandrillus leucophaeus), the males of which can be 3 times the mass of females, possess large canines, and exhibit extremely bright sexual skin coloration. However, the function of male coloration in this species has never been examined. Here, we present data on male color (measured objectively using digital photography), dominance rank, measures of male-female association, and key sexual behaviors, of adult male drills (n=17) living in four semi free-ranging enclosures at the Drill Rehabilitation and Breeding Center in Nigeria. We test the hypothesis that male coloration is a badge of status, indicating dominance rank, and the hypothesis that male coloration attracts females. We found that male coloration did indicate rank, and that high ranking, strongly colored males were more likely to associate with adult females, and more specifically with fully tumescent females. These males also engaged in more sexual activity. However, measures of male-female association and sexual behaviors were not related to male color once rank had been taken into consideration; i.e., for males of a given rank, females did not prefer those that were more colorful. We discuss the results in light of what is known about the wild drill social system, in which unfamiliar individuals may come together in "supergroups," and in which quality indicators of competitive ability may be particularly important.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)807-823
    Number of pages17
    JournalInternational Journal of Primatology
    Issue number6
    StatePublished - Dec 2009


    • Color dichromatism
    • Female choice
    • Male-male competition
    • Mandrillus
    • Sexual signals

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
    • Animal Science and Zoology


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