Living on an island and existing in isolation can cause all sorts of bizarre behavior, especialy if there’s no one else to compare just how weird you are with. For lemurs, which only inhabit the island of Madagascar, this is often demonstrably true.
The latest in a long line of strange habits researchers have discovered lemurs have evolved or adapted is “stink flirting”. Yes, you read that right. And, no, it doesn’t sound sexy.
Researchers at the University of Toronto observed this possibly unique, certainly rare, behavior while studying ring-tailed lemurs, a sub-order of primates that share a common ancestor with us humans.
They are well known for being social animals and having strong group bonds, which makes it all the more unusual to use what is normally a weapon – or at least a threat – to other males as a form of wooing a female.
Like many primates, male ring-tailed lemurs use “stink-marking”, spraying their scent, to mark territory or warn off encroaching challengers. They have special scent glands that excrete their scent, which they then rub their tail in and waft in the general direction of their opponent – which all sounds very Monty Python.
However, this action isn’t taken lightly, as it expends energy and risks upsetting the balance of the group. This is why the researchers were surprised to observe male lemurs performing this scent-wafting display towards females to attract potential mates, risking the wrath of any nearby males.
“Stink-flirting displays are done more often by dominant males,” explained Amber Walker-Bolton, lead author of the study, in a statement.
“This behavior is also very costly because these males are met with higher levels of aggression than if they were to do other types of scent-marking, so there’s definitely something unique about this type of behavior.”
The dominant males in the groups, as well as aggressive outsiders, stink-flirted the most often, which could be a way of showing or gaining rank within the group. Although this is costly behavior, lemurs can also be pretty feisty. Not only do males use their teeth and claws to strike, but females are also known to actually wallop males with a slap around the face.
However, this risky business seems to pay off. Despite not being able to determine whether the stink-flirting actually resulted in higher mating success, the researchers did note that females tended to present themselves more often to those who engaged in the stinky flirting. The results are published in the American Journal of Primatology.
So, there you go. Maybe trying something a little new to make yourself stand out from the crowd really works. Or perhaps we shouldn’t be taking dating advice from these furry weirdos.