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Horm Behav. 2007 Sep;52(3):375-83. Epub 2007 Jun 15.

Female sexual behavior and sexual swelling size as potential cues for males to discern the female fertile phase in free-ranging Barbary macaques (Macaca sylvanus) of Gibraltar.

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  • 1Department of Reproductive Biology, German Primate Centre, Göttingen, Germany. kbrauch@dpz.gwdg.de


Although female catarrhine primates show cyclic changes in sexual behavior and sexual swellings, the value of these sexual signals in providing information to males about timing of the fertile phase is largely unclear. Recently, we have shown that in Barbary macaques, males receive information from females which enables them to discern the fertile phase and to focus their reproductive effort accordingly. Here, we investigate the nature of the cues being used by examining female sexual behavior and the size of sexual swelling as potential indicators of the fertile phase. We collected behavioral data and quantified swelling size using digital images of 11 females of the Gibraltar Barbary macaque population and related the data to the time of ovulation and the fertile phase as determined from fecal hormone analysis. We found that rates of female sexual behaviors were not correlated with female estrogen levels and did not significantly differ between the fertile and non-fertile phases of the cycle. In contrast, swelling size was significantly correlated with female estrogen levels and increased predictably towards ovulation with size being maximal during the fertile phase. Moreover, frequencies of male ejaculatory copulations showed a strong positive correlation with swelling size and highest rates were found during maximum swelling. Our data provide strong evidence that female Barbary macaques honestly signal the probability of fertility through sexual swelling and that males apparently use this information to time their mating activities. Honest advertising of the fertile phase might be part of a female strategy to manipulate male mating behavior for their own advantage, such as ensure fertilization with high quality sperm or influence paternity outcome.

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