Consortships and conceptions in captive rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta)

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A captive group of rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) was observed during the breeding season to determine if consortship behavior, rather than promiscuous matings, resulted in higher reproductive success for either partner. The 38 adult females in this group were observed “in consort” with the 5 adult or 4 subadult males on 179 occasions. Most of these consortships were short-term, lasting less than one day. Six females engaged in consortships with one male that spanned more than three days, but the majority of these long-term associations did not result in a pregnancy with that male. The term “consortship” has been traditionally accepted as a specific nonhuman primate mating pattern, but the exact nature of this behavioral pattern and its evolutionary importance have been less clearly understood. Consort behavior could be considered a precursor to a monogamous mating system if long-term exclusive sexual associations resulted in higher reproductive success for the participants. But this study demonstrates that for rhesus macaques, who exhibit both consort behavior and more promiscuous matings, there is no clear reproductive advantage to long-term consortships. In light of the inconsistent use of the term consortship, the possible adaptive significance of an exclusive male-female sexual association for the evolution of human mating patterns needs to be reevaluated.




Small, M. F. (1990). Consortships and conceptions in captive rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). Primates, 31(3), 339–350.

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