Evaluating genital skin color as a putative sexual signal in wild saddleback (Leontocebus weddelli) and emperor (Saguinus imperator) tamarins

Lais A.A. Moreira, Mrinalini Watsa, Gideon Erkenswick, James P. Higham, Amanda D. Melin

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Coevolution between signalers and receivers has played a significant role in the diversity of animal signals and sensory systems. Platyrrhines (monkeys in the Americas) exhibit a remarkable color vision polymorphism that may have been selected by both natural and sexual selection, but sociosexual color signaling among platyrrhines has received almost no attention. Here, we study the color of reproductive skin among different reproductive classes in free-ranging female saddleback (Leontocebus weddelli) and emperor (Saguinus imperator) tamarins, modeling color spaces, and contrasts for the different visual systems. We find that the chromatic saturation and luminance of genital color vary between reproductive classes in saddleback tamarins. Chromatic contrast between the vulva and belly is lower in the parous females (PFs) relative to adult but not currently breeding females, while achromatic contrast is higher in PFs in saddleback tamarins relative to nonparous females. However, in emperor tamarins, genital color (saturation, hue, and luminance) does not vary between reproductive classes. Overall, genital skin color variation is present in tamarins and may play a role in sexual signaling. Nevertheless, the patterns are inconsistent between species, suggesting interspecific variation. Future studies should integrate the perceiver's behavioral responses and the physical and social signaling environments into comprehensive studies of communication as well as consider the role and interaction between multiple sensory modalities.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Article numbere23456
    JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Feb 2023


    • color vision
    • communication
    • platyrrhines
    • tamarins

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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