Skip to main content
Dryad logo

Female ornaments: is red skin color attractive to males and related to condition in rhesus macaques?


Higham, James et al. (2020), Female ornaments: is red skin color attractive to males and related to condition in rhesus macaques?, Dryad, Dataset,


Sexual selection produces extravagant male traits, such as colorful ornaments, via female mate choice. More rarely, in mating systems in which males allocate mating effort between multiple females, female ornaments may evolve via male mate choice. Females of many anthropoid primates exhibit ornaments that indicate intra-individual cyclical fertility, but which have also been proposed to function as inter-individual quality signals. Rhesus macaque females are one such species, exhibiting cyclical facial color variation that indicates ovulatory status, but in which the function of inter-individual variation is unknown. We collected digital images of the faces of 32 rhesus macaque adult females. We assessed mating rates, and consortship by males, according to female face coloration. We also assessed whether female coloration was linked to physical (skinfold fat, BMI) or physiological (fecal glucocorticoid metabolite fGCM, urinary C-peptide concentrations) condition. We found that redder-faced females were mated more frequently, and consorted for longer periods by top-ranked males. Redder females had higher fGCM concentrations, perhaps related to their increased mating activity and consequent energy mobilization, and blood-flow. Prior analyses have shown that female facial redness is a heritable trait, and that redder-faced females have higher annual fecundity, while other evidence suggests that color expression is likely to be a signal rather than a cue. Collectively, the available evidence suggests that female coloration has evolved at least in part via male mate choice. Its evolution as a sexually-selected ornament attractive to males is probably attributable to the high female reproductive synchrony found in this species.

Usage Notes

Higham-et-al-2020-rhesus-female-color-daily-data.csv - daily measures of female color (Red = RGB and DARK = luminance), fGCM (fecal glucocorticoid metabolites), UCP (urinary c-peptides), and behavior (whether a female was consorted by a top male or not, and the number of mating series in which she was involved), plus dominance ranks for each female

Higham-et-al-2020-rhesus-female-color-averaged-values.csv - color measures averaged over the mating season per female (Red = RGB and DARK = luminance), plus BMI (body mass index, kg/m2) and skinfold fat measurements, plus dominance ranks for each female

Higham-et-al-2020-rhesus-female-color-UCP-collection-times.csv - collection times for UCP data

See the READ ME file for more details.