Why do male Guinea baboons fondle each other’s genitals?


EXCERPT: Male Guinea baboons have a curious habit. They will walk—or sometimes run—to another male baboon and say a quick hello in a very enthusiastic way: with a “mutual penis diddle”. Or sometimes it’s a quick mount from behind. Other times, they do a short dance-like “polonaise,” facing the same way, on their hind legs, hand on the other’s hip, and a few steps forward. Clearly, this behavior needs an explanation.

[...] To understand more about the strange behavior, primatologists Federica Dal Pesco and Julia Fischer gathered hundreds’ of hours of data [...] That gave Dal Pesco and Fischer 1,981 greetings to analyze. They found that baboon bros don’t leave each other hanging: almost all the greetings were reciprocated. More importantly, the vast majority happened between party members; only 5.4 percent of all the greetings the researchers recorded happened between baboons in different parties. [...] Although the sample of 24 baboons was small, the overall dataset was considerable, with hundreds of hours observed and greetings recorded. [...]

The emerging picture was one of “greetings function[ing] to confirm and delineate group membership,” the authors write. That’s the kind of behavior that could be important in a species where males live closely together, dealing with the thorniness of competing for mates in order to reap the benefits that come from coalitions with other males. Of course, with this kind of animal behavior, there’s only so much insight humans are able to gain....

MORE: https://arstechnica.com/science/2018/11/...-genitals/

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