Valentines Day – primate flirtation

A Valentines Day blog on baboon behaviour can really only mean we are looking at one thing…

It has been said that romantic behaviour in primates can be not too dissimilar to our own human behaviour. Whether this provokes amusement or embarrassment is really up to the prospective reader!

Baboons interacting
Baboons interacting

Grooming is a very important part of social interactions for many primates, as shown with vervet monkeys on our Facebook and Instagram pages. Grooming often involves cleaning each other of dirt and thorns, as well as removing parasites, but can seemingly often be a very relaxing process for some – I have seen many slowly drift to sleep, especially juveniles and infants! On other occasions, with some adult males it can go a different way, with some being seen to get visibly aroused when observed during some of our mitigation experiments…

It has also been recently noted by one of our volunteers, much to their dismay, that self-gratification is not out of the question for a lonely baboon, Valentines Day or otherwise. This is not a behaviour regularly noted in species other than humans, but our volunteers have now caught both vervet monkeys and baboons in the act.

Baboons live in large troops and although the majority of successful mating happens with the dominant male, it is not unheard of for females to approach another male before completing their full cycle. The remaining males are always on the lookout for potential opportunities to mate when the dominant male is out of sight. Brian has been regularly seen chasing off many a cheeky male from Crystal, amongst other females. When a female is on heat she swells around her rear, and during the period of coming into heat she may be mated with by any male that come across her, however once she has reached full cycle the dominant male will keep all other males away and will be the only one to then mate with her. It is through this process that the strongest genes will survive.

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We observe baboons from hides for data collection

Despite this, a study by Crockford et al. (2006) in fact looked at how other males may try to get around this. Using play-back experiments where one speaker played the consort male’s grunts and his companion female’s copulation call played from a speaker about 40 m away, creating the illusion of separation and a mating with a different male. The behaviour was compared against a control and demonstrated that other males ‘eavesdrop’ on vocalisations, combining spatial and temporal patterns to attempt a sneaky mating!

As we have seen with their crop raiding behaviour, the chacma baboon learns and adapts quickly to exploit situations. As we study them more it is clear this is not only when in search for food…

Happy Valentines Day!

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