Primate Mating Systems Part 1: Monogamy

  • Monogamous is exclusive mating. Males and females will only mate with each other (Kleiman, 1977). Kleiman (1977) suggests four characteristics in define monogamy
  1. Close proximity of an adult heterosexual pair both during and outside reproduction periods.
  2. Mating preferences.
  3. Absence of other unrelated adult within the home range, nest or territory of the monogamous pair.
  4. Breeding by one adult pair in a family group
  • Kleiman (1977) splits monogamy into two different types: high paternal investment and low paternal investment. Kleiman (1977) suggest this differing level of investment likely is due to environmental factors. Low paternal investment may occur due to the over dispersion of adults (Kleiman 1977).
  • Certain characteristics occur within monogamy that differs from non-monogamous mating systems.
    • Sexual dimorphism is reduced
    • Paternal investment in high
    • Juveniles exhibit delayed sexual maturation when they remain within their family group
    • Juveniles will contribute to rearing their siblings (Kleiman, 1977).
    • A new pair is more likely to interact frequently than a well-established pair.
  • Kleiman and Eisenberg (1973) a general pattern of monogamy is greater reproductive burden in which a solitary mother would have to great a burden to care for her offspring.
  • Wilson (1975) suggested three ecological conditions to explain monogamy.
  1. Scarce or valuable resource that need two adults to defend it.
  2. Physical environment is harsh and thus need two adults to survive within it.
  3. Early breeding
  • Wittenberger and Tilson (1980) summarize five hypotheses of requirements that lead to monogamy
  1. Male parental care is essential to female success
  2. Pairing must with an unmated male must be better than pairing with an already paired male
  3. Majority of males should only be able to successfully mate with females by defending an exclusive territory.
  4. Aggression of mating females prevents males from acquiring more/other mates
  5. Males are less successful with two mates in comparison to one.
  • Example of Primate
    • Indri (Petter, 1965)
      • Indri-in-tree-with-infant.jpg
    • Pygmy marmoset (Ramirez et al. 1974)
      • Juvenile-pygmy-marmoset-portrait.jpg
    • Common marmoset (Eppel, 1967)
      • common-marmoset-on-trunk-of-cecropia-tree-dorsal-view.jpg
    • Tamarin (Moynihan, 1970)
      • Saddleback-tamarin-on-branch-with-mouth-open.jpg
    • Lion tamarin (Coimbra-Filho & Mittermeier, 1973)
      • Golden-lion-tamarin.jpg
    • Night monkey (Moynihan, 1964)
      • night-monkey-head-profile.jpg
    • Monk saki (Napier & Napier, 1967)
    • Mentawai leaf monkey (Tilson & Tenaza 1976)
      • Mentawai-langur.jpg
    • White handed gibbon (Carpenter, 1940)
      • Adult-white-handed-gibbon-sitting-on-branch-with-infant-on-lap.jpg
    • Black crested gibbon (Carpenter, 1940)
      • Black-crested-gibbon-male-calling-1.jpg
    • Kloss’ gibbon (Carpenter, 1940)
      • Klosss-gibbon.jpg
    • Siamang (Chivers, 1972)
      • Siamang-hanging-from-tree-with-throat-sac-inflated-ready-to-vocalise-1.jpg
  • Extra pair copulation (ECP) is a widely discussed topic within monogamy. Since several monogamous species participate in extra pair copulation. This involves one of the members of the pair leaving the other member to copulate with another member of their species (Trivers, 1972).
  • Several species of primates participate in extra pair copulation.
    • Indri (Bonadonna et al. 2014)
    • Several species of gibbons (Palombit, 1994b)
    • Marmosets (Digby, 1999)
    • Dwarf lemurs (Fietz et al. 2000)
    • Sifakas (Lawler, 2007)
    • Forked mark lemurs (Shülke et al. 2004)
    • Red bellied titis (Mason, 1966)
  • In order for the ECP to be beneficial it must first outweigh any costs occuring from pursuing more mating oppurtunities (Bonadonna et al. 2014) and loss of parental gains (Westneat et al. 1990).
  • Females will often pariticipate in extra pair copulation in order to gain genes that increase the heterozygosity of their offspring, get fitter genes, or gain insurance of fertilization (Westneat et al. 1990).


Bonadonna, G. , Torti, V. , Randrianarison, R. , Martinet, N. , Gamba, M. , et al. 2014. Behavioral correlates of extra-pair copulation in indri indri. Primates55(1), 119-123.

Carpenter, C.R.  C. R. 1940. A field study in Siam of the behavior and social relations of the gibbon (Hylo- bates lar). Comp. Psychol. Monogr., 16: 1-212.


CHIVERS, D. J. 1972. The siamang and the gibbon in the Malay Peninsula. Gibbon and Siamang, 1: 103- 135.


Coimbra Filho, A.F., and R. A. Mittermeier. 1973.Distribution and ecology of the genus Leon- topithecus Lesson, 1840, in Brazil. Primates, 14: 47-66.


Digby LJ. 1999 Sexual behavior and extragroup copulations in a wild population of common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus). Folia Primatol 70:136–145

Epple, G. 1967. Vergleichende Untersuchungen uber Sexual- und Sozialverhalten der Krallenaffen (Hapalidae). Folia Primatol., 7: 37-65.


Fietz J, Zischler H, Schwiegk C, Tomiuk J, Dausmann KH, Ganzhorn JU. 2000. High rates of extra-pair young in the pair-living fat-tailed dwarf lemur, Cheirogaleus medius. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 49:8–17

Kleiman, DG. 1977. Monogamy in mammals. Q Rev Biol 52:39–69

Kleiman, D. G., Eisenberg, J. F. 1973. Comparisons of canid and felid social systems from an evolutionary perspec- tive. Anim. Behav. 21:637-59

Lawler RR. 2007. Fitness and extra-group reproduction in male Verreaux’s sifaka: an analysis of reproductive success from 1989–1999. American journal of physical anthropology, Wiley Online Library

Mason WA. 1966. Social organization of the South American monkey, Callicebus moloch: a preliminary report. Tulane Stud Zool 13:23–28

Moynihan, M. 1964. Some behaviour patterns of platyrrhine monkeys. I. The night monkey (Aotus travargatus). Smithson. Misc. Coll., 146(5): 1-84.

Napier, J. R., and P. H. NAPIER. 1967. A Handbook oftree shrews (Tupaaa belangeri), with reference to their general behaviour and taxonomic relation- ships. Z. Tierpsychol., 25: 409-495; 505-532.Living Primates. Academic Press, New York.


Palombit RA. 1994b. Extra-pair copulations in a monogamous ape. Anim Behav 47:721–723

Petter, J.-J. 1965. The lemurs of Madagascar. In I.DeVore (ed.), Primate Behavior, pp. 292-321. Rinehardt and Winston, New York.

Ramierz M.F., C.H. Freese and J. Revilla. (1974). (In press.) Feeding ecology of the pygmy marmoset, Cebuella pygmaea, in northeastern Peru. In D. G. Kleiman (ed.), The Biology and Conservation of the Callitrichidae. Smithsonian Press, Washington, D. C.

Schülke O, Kappeler PM, Zischler H. 2004. Small testes size despite high extra-pair paternity in the pair-living nocturnal primate Phaner furcifer. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 55:292–301

Tilson, R. L., and R. R. Tenaza. 1976. Monogamy and duetting in an Old World Monkey, Presbytis potenziani. Nature, 263: 320-321.

Trivers RL. 1972. Parental investment and sexual selection. In: Campbell B (ed) Sexual Selection and the Descent of Man. Aldine, Chicago, pp 136–179Google Scholar

Westneat DF, Sherman PW, Morton ML. 1990. The ecology and evolution of extra-pair copulations in birds. Curr ornithol 7:331–369

Wilson, E. 0. (1975). Sociobiology. The New Synthesis. Cambridge: Belknap Press. 697 pp.


Wittenberger, J. F. (1980). Group size and polygamy in social mammals. Am. Nat. 15:n press


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