Archive for the ‘Lemuriformes’ Category

ResearchBlogging.org It creeps in the night.  Where it lives, it is considered the harbinger of death and doom. One of the hypotheses for how it obtained its name is from European travelers seeing it and shrieking loudly. Folk legends say it creeps into the houses of unsuspecting locals and digs its elongated finger into the chest to pierce the heart of the slumbering individual. Its fear of humans is almost non-existent, a curious nature that fuels it to come up to humans and examine them further–but is it for the purpose of causing death?

The aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) in the wild. (Photo via: World Wildlife Fund)

Not if you’re a human. The aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) is far from a violent primate–unless you happen to be an off guard grub; the “claws” it has are not sharp enough to pierce through human flesh, at least, not beyond a superficial wound. The aye-aye, at first sight, may not be considered aesthetically pleasing to some. But what it lacks in visual appeal, it makes up for in unique, useful qualities.

The fingers of an aye-aye; notice the elongated middle finger. (Photo by: David Haring)

Much like children at Halloween who knock on doors for treats, the aye-aye uses its aforementioned, elongated middle finger to percussive tap on wood cavities. Then, using its large ears and the touch of the percussive foraging, locates the prey. Next, it uses ever-growing incisors to chew through the wood and relies on its elongated middle finger to pierce and dig out the grub (Lhota et al. 2008).

Because of this foraging method, the aye-aye is culturally regarded as a superstitious creature. The only way to remove the bad luck perceived to come from its presence is to kill it, and potentially, consume it (Simons & Meyers 2001). However, there are also certain regions in southeast Madagascar that perceive the aye-aye very differently–because of its status as an origin for the human race, it is considered as a good luck figure (Sterling & Feistner 2000).

Currently, the aye-aye is considered a Near Threatened species according to the IUCN (2008). While this primate is feared in some cultures, revered in others, it also plays a vital role in its habitat. Much like woodpeckers, aye-ayes serve an ecological niche of preventing insect infestation into wood, keeping it healthy.

Although not a pretty primate, more like the rats that you’d expect to find around a witch’s cauldron, the aye-aye plays a very strong ecological role in maintaining the health of the trees of the forest by consuming potential infestations. Even though it is seen as bad luck to one culture and good luck to another, when the aye-aye comes to “trick-or-treat”–it will never be in a human chest, but in a tree trunk.


Andrainarivo, C., Andriaholinirina, V.N., Feistner, A., Felix, T., Ganzhorn, J., Garbutt, N., Golden, C., Konstant, B., Louis Jr., E., Meyers, D., Mittermeier, R.A., Perieras, A., Princee, F., Rabarivola, J.C., Rakotosamimanana, B., Rasamimanana, H., Ratsimbazafy, J., Raveloarinoro, G., Razafimanantsoa, A., Rumpler, Y., Schwitzer, C., Thalmann, U., Wilmé, L. & Wright, P. 2008. Daubentonia madagascariensis. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.1. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 26 October 2011.

Lhota S, Jůnek T, Bartos L, & Kubĕna AA (2008). Specialized use of two fingers in free-ranging aye-ayes (Daubentonia madagascariensis). American journal of primatology, 70 (8), 786-95 PMID: 18473358

Simons, E.L. & Meyers, D.M. (2001). Folklore and beliefs about the aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis). Lemur News, 6: 11-16.

Sterling, E.J. & Feistner, A.T.D. (2000). Aye-aye. In: Reading, R.P., Miller, B. Ed. Endangered animals, a reference guide to conflicting issues.


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The night before I came to the reserve, I was up at 2:30am, looking at the clock in a cockroach-laden hotel thinking to myself: what if I didn’t like the lemurs? I didn’t expect to be empowered. And I definitely wasn’t certain if primatology was for me after all. What was I going to do if this didn’t work out? Aside from being out at least a good chunk of money that could’ve been spent on a large student loan.

But I do, I am, and I have never been so certain of anything in my life. Much like how I stumbled into primatology by taking an introductory anthropology course to satisfy a general education requirement, I fell face first into my new favorite species. When I came, I wasn’t sure about lemurs all that much; my prior education had been composed of mostly new world monkeys and a brief research stint with some rhesus macaques.

At first, I thought the mongoose lemurs were incredible. My first experience with them was in the form of the female leaping onto my shoulders and crawling about as if I were a walking island for her convenience. Over time, it’s not that I didn’t love them–I do, but my heart was more violently gripped by another species, the ones I was the least sure of–the ring-tailed lemurs.

Ansell and Harp, two ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta).

Their personalities were so pronounced; there was the dominant mother, Ansell who wasn’t afraid to cuff her subordinate males, Sam and Adam. Sam, who was initially described as “pathetic,” quickly rose to one of my favorites. Whenever I’d watch Sam, I’d always catch his eyes watching me–perhaps I’m anthropomorphizing, but one of the girls suggested he was the most cognizant of the lemurs, and I’d have to agree. Whenever I’d be following him as my focal, he wouldn’t venture too far forward without stopping and waiting for me to catch off before darting forward a little bit or foraging. Then, there was Molson, one of the sweetest lemurs I’d ever seen in the other forest. Initially, Stella, the lady-like lemur (who always had her legs crossed while eating and her tail covering her ladybits) bored me.

And then a rattlesnake made itself present in front of me and my colleague. While I was following Stella, curious as to why she was walking so slowly and grunting repeatedly before standing on her hind legs, the infamous rattle was heard and obeyed. We quickly backed off–but not Stella. No, Stella was not having a snake in HER forest that day. Instead, she stood up to the snake with her hands out and growled right back at the hissing as Molson looked on at her.

Moments like that with the lemurs made me come to love them and even more upset to be having to leave them. I have three days left and I intend to make the best of it. I have plenty of pictures to remind myself of all of them–even the pesky red ruffed lemurs who were not afraid to crawl right up to me and sniff my feet. Nor the Sanford’s lemurs who had completely ignored the rattlesnake, but lost it at the sight of a raccoon.

I’ve heard many a time about how you can recognize yourself through an ape’s eyes and all of the tropes along with it, but for me, I’ve never felt more connected to my primate self than working with these lemurs and getting to know prosimians. I’m not knocking the appeal of apes or any other primate, but truly–this experience with lemurs has been the most personally rewarding primatology experience I’ve had this far and reinvigorated my passion for primatology tenfold.

I’m not sure what the future holds for me in terms of graduate school, but I think I would like to one day work with lemurs again.  When I leave, I know I’ll be empowered thanks to my time here with the lemurs–I can identify a lemur by sight, even some of the red ruffeds without the collar. I can handle being out in a field for hours at a time and I can do this. And for that, I have lemurs to thank.

Veloma, my lemur friends–but not for good.

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A red ruffed lemur (Varecia rubra) lazing about. (Photo by: CCH)

It wasn’t my intention not to update, but over the past two weeks I’ve been busy in training and preparing to start data collection. I’ve passed all the inter-observer reliability tests and safety training, so I’m ready to go! Because neither of those are particularly interesting, I figured I would hold off on updating until I could get to the more exciting things. I swear I haven’t been entirely like the red ruffed as seen above. Lazy lemur.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve learned an important lesson in “killing your darlings,” and truth be told, it’s worth it. From the ethogram I originally designed to the actual project itself, I’ve cut out a lot of things since coming up with the plan and it’s been for the better. If there is anything I wish for people, it’s that they have someone who’s good at cutting the excess from projects, proposals, and other things like I’ve been lucky enough to have. Originally, I had a two page ethogram–which was cut down to essentially food-related behaviors and then five others. In doing so, it maximizes the time in which I’m able to collect data.

I’ve been learning a lot about lemurs too. For example: red ruffed lemurs possess a sufficient amount of knowledge to distract a researcher and attempt to steal things. They tend to work in teams when they do this. Mongoose lemurs are also particularly good at catching you off-guard as well and will exploit this in order to have a free ride from one tree to the next, with a “human island” in between. For anyone that suggests lemurs are not intelligent, they clearly have never worked with a lemur before. I’m also surprised about how much I’ve come to really like ring-tailed lemurs, as well. It’s not that I thought I would dislike them, but I expected to be more ambivalent. Instead, they have quickly become my favorites and the ones I’m most excited to watch. The ones here are very diverse in personality; there are three that are particularly aggressive and there are also a few you will have to find yourself tracking in between scans just to ensure a healthy distance, lest you desire a small lemur paw touching your tripod chair. (And of course, we don’t want that because it manipulates behavior and data you’re trying to collect.)

The differences between here and La Suerte are particularly notable. Aside from the obvious of living in America still versus Costa Rica and the privileges and drawbacks of both, and that the primates here are still captive (even if semi-free-ranging) compared to wild, there’s a large difference in just walking around the field. For example, in La Suerte, I was most concerned about eating enough to sustain the forest walks, being able to breathe in a smaller forest due to allergies, and just being able to see the primates. Whereas, here, I’m more concerned about faceplanting into a massive spider’s web and attempting to avoid getting destroyed by mosquitoes (I found it more tolerable in Costa Rica, however, I invested in 100% DEET lotion versus the 35% DEET bug spray I use here), ticks, and fire ants. When I worry about potential diseases, I was never worried about malaria (the area in which La Suerte is located has not had a case of malaria in some time, to my knowledge), though I was terrified of having rabies (due to an incident of waking up with a dead bat in my bed). Here, I’m anxious about West Nile virus, encephalitis, and lyme disease.

But there are a lot of similarities too: attempting to avoid stepping on or nearby snakes or other wildlife, humidity and hydration are two major issues every researcher endures, and in the mornings, the red ruffed and mongoose lemurs can be particularly difficult to identify while 15m+ (or ~49+ ft.) in the air.

I don’t think I’d trade anything else in the world for this, though. If anything, this experience has really emboldened me and convinced me this is the field I was meant to be in and makes me voracious to learn more about primates–be it lemurs or any other species. As such, I’ve been doing a lot of work researching graduate schools in my down time. I’ve been contacting professors left and right (so far, I’ve had either positive responses or none at all–a good sign, perhaps?) and I’m doing some of my statements of purpose now so I can get more revisions in and make them better before applying. My goal is to have five programs picked out by the end of the next two weeks so I can contact letter of recommendation writers. So far, I have 3/5 and I’m looking into a few more to close that gap and get moving on.

Field work is different depending on where you go and what you intend to study, but there are some consistencies that are particularly rewarding. In what other career path could I say I watched lemurs run and tackle each other for twenty minutes?

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This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgThis post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.org Within human culture, the hymen has great significance for its perceived correlation to female sexual status.  For many cultures, the presence of an intact hymen before marriage suggests purity and cleanliness.  Outside of weddings and marriage, hymens have also had cultural relevance as the word “hysteria” is derived from womb-fury, which was associated with the hymen*.  Over time, the role of the hymen within culture has changed from being a cause of madness to, in more scientifically-minded societies, being seen as a biological part of the human female body.  And so, too, with these shifting perceptions, the human comprehension of the hymen has changed as well.  Even though cultural perspectives on the presence and function of the hymen have changed, little is understood in which circumstances the hymen may have been sexually selected.  Some scholars posit cultural practices as a method for selection, while others suggest a more morphologically related explanation based on evolutionary responses to the environment.  It is thought that because the hymen offers a barrier of protection in the external vaginal opening, through evolving human cultural practices, it enhances a woman’s individual fitness.  The sexual selection of the human hymen is related to hygienic purposes in order to reduce infertility and has been supported indirectly through cultural practices.

Hymen: the stigmatized tissue

Among the many tissues within the human body, few are more stigmatized than the hymen.  This is largely in part due to the human cultural perceptions of the hymen as a measure of sexual status.  And while the hymen is well known for the cultural perceptions, few are aware of the actual anatomical and physiological aspects.  Commonly misconceived as a part of the internal vaginal canal, in reality, the hymen is not inside of the vagina at all.  The hymen is a membrane-like tissue which is considered part of the external genitalia, whereas the internal vaginal orifice is partly covered by the labia majora.  Although hymens are only present in the female sex, there are variations of the types that may naturally occur.  Hymen morphological variation can range from crescent-shaped, ring-shaped, folded upon itself, banded across the opening, holed, or, without an opening within the hymen at all.  Such cases are considered “imperforated hymens” and only occur in 1 in 2,000 females (Kurman 2002).  Variation exists in the types present within females and in the evolutionary morphology of its presence.

Although debated by scholars, it is thought some human females are not the only ones to be lacking a hymen.  Throughout the Primate order, only two living species (other than humans) are known to have hymens: lemurs and chimpanzees (Cold & McGrath 1999).  It is unclear what circumstances may have lead to the evolutionary reversion for the hymen to reappear because tissues tend to not preserve in the fossil record.  In addition, we do not have clear physical evidence to distinguish whether the hymen is a retained ancestral trait, or it arose three times within lemurs, chimpanzees, and humans as a homoplasy.  However, there are multiple theories which support the idea of the hymen as a retained ancestral trait in response to ecological conditions where it would have been beneficial to retain a tissue on the external genitalia.

The Evolutionary Theories

An aquatic ape? (Photo by: Barry Bland via DailyMail)

One of the methods scholars posit as a reason for the hymen to be selected for is in relation to our evolutionary history.  In one of the more contested human evolutionary theories, the aquatic ape theory, it is thought the hymen was selected for as a response to the ecological conditions in which hominid ancestors were living.  In this theory, hominids spent a substantial amount of time in waters due to competition for food resources (Hardy 1960).  Over time, the hominid ancestors waded further into waters, as competition grew less fierce.  In order to support this claim, Hardy draws on the loss of hair from hominoid ancestors to present modern human as evidence by paralleling them to numerous other aquatic mammals that tend to lack hair.  In addition to the hair loss, the presence of the hymen was thought to be an adaptation to the new aquatic environment.

Within the new habitat, hominids were more at risk to microbes rarely encountered on land.  Morgan hypothesizes that the hymen evolved as an independent adaptation to avoid vaginal infections caused by microbes within the aquatic environment (Morgan 1972).  As hominids walked upright more frequently within the aquatic habitat, the likelihood of contracting vaginal infections increased.  These vaginal infections were considered to cause infertility and as a result, reduce reproductive success (Hobday et al. 1997).  Therefore, females that possessed these tissues to ward off infections were more likely to be reproductively successful and pass on the adaptation to offspring.  After enough time passed, the tissue remained in hominids as an apomorphy.

While this is possible, many scholars refute the possibility of the aquatic ape theory.  In direct reference to the hymen, the aquatic ape theory fails to take into account the fact the hymen only offers limited protection for the vagina due to the fact it does not cover the entirety of the genitals.  In defense of the aquatic ape theory, some scholars believe that even partial coverage is more beneficial than none at all (Morgan 1972).  However, this does not take into account the likelihood in which these infections would persist in female populations.  Furthermore, this theory also does not recognize the probability of the hymen tearing from sexual intercourse or other methods, thus, further reducing the chances in which the hymen would offer protection.  Therefore, evidence seems to deviate from the role of the aquatic ape theory’s ecological selection.

Another alternative suggests a different source for the hymen’s function.  In a more recent hypothesis, Hobday et al. postulate that the hymen is an embryological structure (leftover from the conjunction of the sino-vaginal bulb and muellerian ducts) retained into juvenility but also serving as a barrier against infectious microbes (1997; Raveenthiran 2009).  As humans tend to be more altricial and weaker at birth than other primate ancestors, the necessity for having further protection was naturally selected for into childhood and adolescence.  Although it has yet to be determined, given the change to an upright posture and a reduction into the size of the birth canal, it is not likely the function of the human hymen is necessarily the same as the one in lemurs and chimpanzees (Hobday et al. 1997).  Currently, it is unclear when this trait may have evolved, as it is unlikely to be a trait shared with chimpanzees given the morphological changes from chimpanzees to humans.  In this context, this suggests the idea that the hymen evolved three times.  The hymen in Hobday’s exaptation theory serves as a homoplasy, and it is postulated this evolutionary adaptation may have benefitted humans for more hygienic reasons, which may not have been necessary in primate ancestors.

A pair of ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) grooming. (Photo by: Mike Powles via ARKive.org)

Particularly because human infants are altricial at birth and unable to groom themselves, hygiene is an important factor when considering the health of an infant.  Even though it is possible for the mother to groom, it is impossible for her to remove microscopic foreign infectious agents from the vaginal area.  Having a membrane-like tissue to prevent foreign materials, such as fecal matter and other such substances, would provide protection to infants during this vulnerable time (Hobday et al. 1997).  Furthermore, it is assumed that this would be naturally selected for, as variations of hymens exist.  Thus, hymens that offer more protection would be more likely to pass on their genes to offspring, as fewer infections would occur in the very young, leading to fewer cases of infertility.

The phenotypic variation expressed in hymens can provide scholars greater insight into the legitimacy of claims in that the hymen might reduce infertility.  One of the ways in which this hypothesis can be examined further is making the comparison between intact hymens and imperforated hymens.  While imperforated hymens are rarer in the general population, they have subsisted nonetheless.  Currently, scholars believe that the transmission of the imperforated hymen is a dominant trait (Sterling et al. 2000).  As such, the phenotypic trait would be more likely to occur in the general population over time.  The imperforated hymen can be reversed through surgical intervention, but without doing so, can lead to a significant delay in menarche and puberty, abdominal pain, urinary accumulations (which may lead to infections), smegma blockage, and prevent menstrual blood from escaping; all of which, over time, could lead to increased mortality risk (Posner & Spandorfer 2005).  Given that the chance of mortality increases if build up of smegma and other accumulations increase over time without intervention, as imperforated hymens are a health risk, this lends credibility to hymens being a naturally selected trait.  While having too thick of a hymen might lead to some infections, having a less thick and breakable hymen might function as a filter for infectious microbes.

This exaptation hypothesis, much like the aquatic ape theory, tends to receive criticism for its explanation of the hymen’s function.  For instance, following the breaking of the hymen through loss of virginity or other physical methods, females would be likely to lose the protection from microbial agents (Maul 2007).  While this may be the case, Maul fails to take into account that it is possible for a female to have offspring after the first sexual intercourse assuming she has reached menarche.  If she is able to have viable offspring from her first sexual encounter, it is not as critical for her body to ward off against infections.  Her female offspring would also be likely to carry the trait of having a hymen which would offer the same protections.  Furthermore, Maul also does not recognize the fact that adolescents would be old enough to begin to clean the vagina on their own, thus, offering another source of defense against microbial infections.

The other substantial criticism of Hobday et al.’s hymen exaptation hypothesis is that the hymen is not necessarily a beneficial trait when considering sexual selection pressures.  If the hymen is selected to be occlusive, it may cause difficulty for the first intercourse and subsequent coituses if the hymen is too obstructive to be penetrated (Cox 1995).  In the case intercourse provides to be a difficult and painful experience for both individuals, intercourse might occur less frequently.  Therefore, the chances of passing on the phenotype of an occlusive hymen are reduced in this situation.   This criticism is weak, at best, as it does not regard the fact it reduces reproductive fitness as females are less likely to have intercourse due to painful coitus; thus, limiting the number of offspring produced.  In addition, it also fails to take into account the significance of human cultural values on virginity and the status of the hymen.

The Cultural Experience

            Across multiple human cultures and societies, the presence of the hymen is an important trait within women.  For centuries, within various mythologies and religions, cultural practices, and human perceptions, the hymen has had a significant role in the female status.  In one of the more notorious examples, the Islamic ideology of men receiving 72 virgins in the wake of suicide-killings is compelling enough to shift the incentive from living to the desire for death (Franck et al. 2005).  As the 72 virgins symbolize indefinite personal gain, the loss of life becomes inconsequential as the future gain of these women with present hymens outweighs the current experience of life.  On the contrary, while these men gain incentive to take their lives for the women with virginal status, women who have been found to lose their virginal status prior to marriage are sometimes forced into these suicide-killing situations as a way of restoring honor to their families (Franck et al. 2005).  In this ideology, men, regardless of having virginal status or not, are rewarded with women who maintain virginity, whereas, females are punished with death for not retaining theirs.  Although this example is extreme, highly rare within the modern world, and exists within an oppressive, patriarchic paradigm, it highlights the significance of the presence of the intact hymen within a human society as a form of sexual selection pressure.

Throughout human history, the intact hymen has been regarded with reverence and general positivity.  Many scholars support the idea of the human hymen been sexually selected via cultural methods for its symbolic importance in patrilineal societies.  By having a partner who has an intact hymen, it is thought males can be certain of a female partner’s sexual history (Hobday et al. 1997).  Therefore, in the case of females becoming pregnant after first coitus, males can be more certain of their paternity in offspring.  Conversely, this may serve as an indirect form of mate guarding as tearing the hymen might serve as a method of making females less attractive to other males, due to the uncertainty of paternity in any potential offspring (Buss 2006).  In situations such as these where the intact hymen and virginal status are preferred traits, it is likely the hymen is a sexually selected attribute.

In some cultures, cherry pie is a very big deal. It's like a cool drink of water, or a sweet surprise.

Indirectly within multiple human cultures, the hymen may have been sexually selected as a trait which contributes to a female’s hygiene, but also as a valuable feature in attracting a mate.  Sexual selection is defined as differential mating success among individuals within a population (Panhuis et al. 2001).  As such, it is possible the hymen can serve as a sexually selected characteristic among females. Typically, sexual selection is expressed in males, but the presence of an intact hymen can serve as an unintentional form of intrasexual competition between females.  Given that it might be more likely for men to choose virgin women as mates due to potentially being able to ascertain paternity status in offspring, the intact hymen might make it more likely for a female to be chosen as a mate (Maul 2007).  Women who are chosen as mates are also thought to be more likely to have better access to resources that may increase individual fitness as she would have to spend less energy on procuring resources for herself.  It must be noted, however, these factors are dependent upon the male preference for the intact hymen and perceived associated virginal status.

Although it is commonly thought to be the case that the tearing of the hymen equates to a loss of virgin status, new evidence has come forth to suggest otherwise. In recent years, data has come forth to suggest the presence of an intact hymen is no longer an entirely accurate depiction of virginal status.  Among one of the many claims, a recent study linked 52% of a group of adolescent girls having an intact, non-disrupted hymen after first sexual intercourse (Adams et al. 2004).  This finding suggests not only is it necessarily true the intact hymen correlates with a lack of previous sexual history, but even possibly a beneficial aspect for an intact hymen to exist after sexual intercourse.  For instance, in the Yungar society of Australia, some women were brutally tortured, starved, and killed regularly if they lacked an intact hymen previous to marriage (Hobday et al. 1997).  Accordingly, in some social contexts, having a more elasticized hymen to withstand penetration and tearing might be beneficial.  The presence of an intact hymen to persist may serve as a signal to males that she retains her chastity; thus, being able to continue living without stigmatization or persecution.  As the hymen is still revered and important within some societies around the world as a signal of paternity certainty, other societies place less importance as evidence comes to light to suggest otherwise.

In addition to the fact in which having an intact hymen is no longer necessarily indicative of virginal status, recent technology has made it even more difficult to distinguish sexually active status.  Through technological advancements have been made in feminine hygiene products, the use of tampons may actually be likely to tear the hymen as well as speculum examinations by gynecologists (Rogers & Stark 1998).  Occurrences such as these are frequent in the westernized world, as many menstruating females can afford hygiene products.  However, in areas of the world where females have limited access to hygiene products and routine gynecological examinations, this phenomenon is rarer (Farage et al. 2011).  Recent surgical advances have also made it possible for some women to reconstruct the intact hymen, further adding to the complications of discerning sexually active females.

Surgeries which restore the intact hymen are often referred to as hymenorrhaphy or a hymenoplasty.  In a hymenoplasty, the remnants of a torn hymen are stretched and stitched to the vaginal orifice (Prakash 2009).  Within the surgery, the hymen is stretched out and essentially recreated from pre-existing tissue.  In many countries, women will go to great lengths to get their hymen repaired to former status for reasons from fear of being thought of as unchaste (which might result in any consequence ranging from divorce to death) to cosmetic reasons to maintain a sexual partner’s happiness (Prakash 2009).  But in the context of sexual selection, the hymenoplasty could be considered as a deceptive signal.  Much like the elasticized hymen which fails to tear even after sexual intercourse, the hymenoplasty can also serve as an indication to others that the female retains her virginal status.   The signal sent from this procedure can be used to deceive males into choosing a female as a mate, thus, serving as a strategy to outcompete other females without the presence of a hymen.

Though the function of the hymen is still widely debated among scholars, its presence can serve as a sexually selected trait that increases fitness in females.  Females that live in cultures where males give preference to females with an intact hymen and perceived virginal status often receive benefits of better access to resources.  In addition, it is hypothesized that these females are more likely to be reproductively successful for reasons related to an evolutionary function in which the hymen served as a barrier, preventing infectious microbes from entering the vaginal orifice.  Therefore, females with an intact hymen until first coitus were thought to avoid infections which may have lead to infertility. As such, it was beneficial to choose women as mates who retained an intact hymen.  Despite recent studies suggesting the hymen is less elastic than previously thought, the importance of the hymen still remains in certain cultures around the world and still continues to thrive as a sexually selected trait.

Note: * = Initially, I was under the impression the term hysteria was linked to the hymen as it was once believed the hymen was part of the uterus. Not entirely true, however, hymens are linked to hysteria through the perceived womb fury. (More information on this can be found here)


Adams, J.A., Botash, A.S., & Kellogg, N. (2004). Differences in hymenal morphology between adolescent girls with and without a history of consensual sexual intercourse. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med, 158(3): 280-285.

Buss, D.M. (2006). Strategies of human mating. Psych Topics, 2: 239-260.

Cold, C.J. & McGrath, K.A. (1999). Anatomy and Histology of the Penile and Clitoral Prepuce in Primates.  In Denniston, G.C., Hodges, F.M., & Milos M.F. (Eds.), Male and Female Circumcision, (pp. 1-8), New York: Plenum Publishers.

Cox, G. (1995). De Virginibus Puerisque: the function of the human foreskin considered from an evolutionary perspective. Med Hypoth, 45: 617-621.

Farage, M.A., Miller, K.W., & Davis, A. (2011). Cultural aspects of menstruation and menstrual hygiene in adolescents. Exp Rev Obst Gyn, 6(2): 127-139.

Franck, R., Hillman, A.L., & Krausz, M. (2005). Public safety and the moral dilemma in the defense against terror. Def and Peace Econ, 16(5): 347-364.

Hardy, A. (17 March 1960). Was Man more aquatic in the past? New Scientist, 642-645.

Hobday, A.J., Haury, L., & Dayton, P.K. (1997). Function of the human hymen. Medical Hypotheses, 49, 171-173

Kurman, R.J. (2002). Blaustein’s Pathology of the Female Genital Tract (5th edition). New York: Springer-Verlag, 160.

Maul, A. (2007). An evolutionary interpretation of the significance of physical pain experienced by human females: defloration and childbirth pains. Med Hypoth, 69(2): 403-409.

Morgan, E. (1972). The Descent of Woman. New York: Stein and Day.

Panhuis, T.M., Butlin, R., Zuk, M., & Tregenza, T. (2001). Sexual selection and speciation. Trends Ecol Evol, 16(7): 364-371.

Posner, J.C. & Spandorfer, P.R. (2005). Early detection of imperforate hymen prevents morbidity from delays in diagnosis. Pediatrics, 115(4): 1008-1012.

Prakash, V. (2009). Hymenoplasty—how to do. Indian J Surg, 71: 221-223.

Raveenthiran, V. (2009). Surgery of the hymen: from myth to modernization.  Indian J Surg, 71: 224-226.

Rogers, D.J. & Stark, M. (1998). The hymen is not necessarily torn after sexual intercourse. Brit Med J, 317(7155): 414.

Sterling, J.R., Gray, M.R., Davis, A.J., Cowan, J.M., & Reindollar, R.H. (2000). Dominant transmission of imperforate hymen. Fert Steril, 74(6): 1241-1244.

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Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) in Monkey Mountain, Inuyama, Japan. Taken by a personal friend on her trip a few years back. (Photo by: R. Sim)

Hey hey hey, y’all. Monkey Day 2010 is here at last. While I intend to make something like this an annual tradition provided I’m still running this blog, it will hopefully also be a special edition for Four Stone Hearth as well. The Fourth Stone Hearth is a blog carnival that specializes in anthropology in the widest (American) sense of that word. Here, anthropology is the study of humankind, throughout all times and places, focusing primarily on four lines of research: archaeology, sociocultural anthropology, bio-physical anthropology, and linguistic anthropology. I’ll do my best to make it as inclusive as possible with what I’m given to accommodate for all four branches so everyone can get something out of today’s most wonderful time of the year. That said, there’s monkey business to get done, so let’s get to it:

First up, we’ve got Krystal at Anthropology in Practice with a post on “The Evolutionary Roots of Talking with Our Hands.” The article does a really great job of examining gestures within language acquisition and examines it through an evolutionary perspective of our primate ancestors such as siamangs, captive gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans. She also posted a really great video of the famous bonobo at the Great Ape Trust, Kanzi, working with a lexigram as an example of communicating with gestures.

Speaking of field work, this was taken by me during my favorite field work moment at La Suerte Biological Field Station in Costa Rica when this capuchin (Cebus capucinus) spat out the seed in her mouth on top of my head. Love. (Photo by: A.V.S.)

New blogger to the scene, Atelid, over at The Primate Chronicles has some pretty great articles for people to look at. One specifically written for today’s special issue, “I can see you, but I can hear you better: a little known fact about Tarsiers,” one of the (in my opinion) most underrated and unappreciated prosimians. She also wrote about some of her favorite field work moments and gave a great example for what it’s like to have some of the best positive experiences during field work in her “My Top 5 Fieldwork Moments.”

As always, Raymond Ho, FCD, or The Prancing Papio, has some insight into a very timely discovery to science with Another addition to the Fork-marked lemur species? Raymond does a great job of explaining the details about this new information and what to make of it in the context of the information we have currently.

Over at her blog, Barbara J. King writes about The Cognitive Watershed and Nut-Cracking Monkey Pushback wherein she explains one of the finer (and, in my personal opinion, coolest) aspects of primatology, nut-cracking, and uses bearded capuchin monkeys (Cebus libidosus) to exemplify these foraging techniques. Pretty timely as the holidays approach, eh?

DNApes has also got a fantastic article that’s been hitting the news recently about Monitoring the Health of Endangered, Wild Chimpanzees. I’m particularly interested in disease ecology in primates, so this article was a special treat for me given that it looks at the potential for retroviral diseases in chimpanzees and the risks posed to hunters as a result.

Speaking of an "elak apa," this is another picture I took while studying in Costa Rica. This is a (obviously) male mantled howler monkey (Alouatta palliata). (Photo by: A.V.S.)

Have you ever been curious about how to say “Bad Monkey” in a language other than your own? Well, here’s your chance! A clever great ape managed to figure out how to say it in ways from Braille, British Sign Language, Semaphore, and everything else you could imagine.

Finally, I think Kevin at the Creativity Well sums up Monkey Day best of all with his post, “Unleashing my inner monkey“–I’ll let you read that one on your own because I think it does a great job of marrying both personal life aspects (even for those who aren’t primatologists) with one’s primate self.

The next round of Four Stone Hearth (#109) will be hosted at Testimony of the Spade. If you’re interested, send Magnus or the always-lovely, Afarensis your articles or nominate some of your fellow Anthropoblogging peers. This week was a special issue dedicated towards primates, but next week will be returning to the usual format.

As far as Serious Monkey Business goes–in the near future, expect some articles on the ethics of habituation from a biocentric perspective, macaques, and also looking at primatology from a Mauss-ian perspective. Until then, Happy Monkey Day, everybody!

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If there were one subject that I were to not write about and feel the most regret over not doing so, it would be the role of feminism within primatology.

It is absolutely unthinkable to consider what primatology would be like without the work and contributions of female scientists such as Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Birutė Galdikas, Jeanne Altmann, Linda Fedigan, Barbara Smuts, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Marina Cords, Tara Stoinski, Susan Alberts, Anne Pusey, Alison Jolly, and Deborah Fouts–I could honestly go on and spew about at least a hundred names of female primatologists as this is one of the few fields which women have contributed from early on, and thus, one of the reasons why primatology is the strong, developed field it is today.

For myself, personally, I am influenced by two phenomenal women primatologists: Karen Strier and Katherine MacKinnon. Both of these women have individually touched my experience in primatology and shaped me into who and what I intend to do with my life today.


The Female Scholars Role

Aside from the female primatologists, female perspective has also shaped a significant niche within the academic subject. One might think the role of female scientists in primatology is based on the potential for females to “correct” the findings from male scientists to fit a female perspective paradigm, but this could not be farther from the truth (Sperling 1991). The role of women in primatology is beyond that of a grader, women have been able to produce information to advance the field in such instances as Goodall’s famous redefinition of what it means to be human (because of primate tool use) to Joan Silk’s debate over relevant terminology such as “friendship” (because of affiliative social behaviors between baboons) to Patricia Wright’s discovery of the golden bamboo lemur. It’s undeniable at this point that females have had and will continue to have a significant role in shaping, constructing, and defining what primatology is and will become as an academic field.

So, if that’s the case, then why is it important to consider the paradigm of feminism within primatology? According to Schiebinger (2000), in the 1960’s, women received hardly any of the granted Ph.D.s in primatology compared to modern day, where women are now roughly 78% of primatology Ph.D.s granted in a given year. As a result, critiquing the perspectives of male-dominated theories and stereotypes became re-examined along with the role of female primates within a given social structure.  Female primate literature began to take off, giving rise to ideas such as female mate choice which can undermine male mate choice and female dominance hierarchy such as in Japanese macaques (Primates in Perspective 479, 487).

But with this rise of female scientists came examination at a condescending cost.


Women and “Cute”

As the numbers of women in primatology with Ph.D.s increased, the examination of why primatology was such a female “friendly” field followed.  One of the more offensive, demeaning, and grossly untrue (from this writer’s perspective) theories was of the “Big Brown Eyes” Hypothesis.  In this, it was assumed that women studied primates to work with the cutesy-wutsy little animulls with which they could take care of and hug forever and ever. As Fedigan (1994) points out, anyone who has studied primates beyond prosimians (and even then as slow lorises could be harmful) would know that primates are far from cute–they can be unpredictable, vicious, and downright nasty.

Oh, how cute--I bet they'd look even cuter with those canines in your flesh!

Oh, how cute--I bet they'd look even cuter with those canines in your flesh!

Speaking as someone who has had first-hand interactions with primates: we, especially in the western world where we generally don’t have living extant primates (e.g. Canada and United States of America), we don’t have the first hand knowledge of what primates are really like. For instance, we typically don’t experience our crops getting raided by primates which might fight back against a protective farmer whose livelihood depends on the crops.

I’d also like to echo SpiderMonkeyTales‘ sentiments on this theory as someone else who has done field work (and here, I speak on my own behalf, but I’d like to think this is maybe a shared thought): there is nothing that cute that can get me to willingly visit the Costa Rican rainforest during the rainy season, get eaten alive by mosquitoes (and potentially risk infectious diseases), awful sunburn, upset stomach and other travel sicknesses, chasing after barely visible subjects, getting literally shit on and covered in maybe-but-not-necessarily-literal shit, visit potentially war-torn countries, potentially damaging important social relationships, investing tons of money into travel, food, gear, and supplies.

Field work is “fucking hard” on every level imaginable: mentally, physically, and emotionally, as I’ve had two seasoned veterans admit to me. And suggesting we’re doing it just to see something cute? Check that mentality at the door, please.


Primatology: why should we care about feminism and why a female primate’s work is never going to be done.

Although I’ve stated the contributions from female primatologists in the subject, there is still the issue of why feminism is critical to science and primatology. If it isn’t obvious by the fact that women compose at least half of the population (and therefore have an intrinsic right to a voice which concerns their heritage and environment), here’s why: women’s contribution to science can enhance the study, find new perspectives worth examining (or, because this is Science and Science need not always be new! exciting! or supported! to be worthwhile, as “failures” are worth examining as well), and  shape the discipline, theoretical framework, and questions we ask to get the knowledge we actively seek.

Furthermore, as we are around half of the population, expanded research into feminist perspectives for scientific queries could enhance the “gendered dimensions of life that conventional categories of analysis ignore” (Fedigan 1997).  Even if we are unable to specifically determine how non-human primates identify in terms of gender or sex, this absolutely does not mean we should be limiting our human primate scientific perspectives in terms of only male and female, but explore what other paradigms outside of the traditional perspective.

While it is true primatology offers strong role models for women in the aforementioned primatologists at the beginning of this post, I would be sorely remiss if I did not believe that who we can offer is not necessarily indicative of what we can offer. Primatology is a field that still can be hard to break into, however, if one is willing to work hard, there is always work to be done.



Fedigan, L.M.  (1994).  Science and the successful female: why there are so many women primatologists.  American Anthropologist, 96(3), 529-540.  http://www.jstor.org/stable/682298

Fedigan, L.M.  (1997).  Is primatology a female science? Women in Human Evolution.  L. Hager (ed.) Routledge Press, 56-75.  http://people.ucalgary.ca/~fedigan/Fedigan%201997b.pdf

Primates in Perspective, 2nd Edition.  Edited by C.J. Campbell, A. Fuentes, K.C. MacKinnon, M. Panger, S.K. Bearder, and Strumpf R.M.  Oxford University Press, NY, 2011.

Schiebinger, L.  (2000).  Has Feminism Changed Science? Signs, 25(4), 1171-1175.  http://www.jstor.org/stable/3175507

Sperling, S.  (1991).  Baboons with Briefcases: Feminism, Functionalism, and Sociobiology in the Evolution of Primate Gender.  Signs, 17(1), 1-27.  http://courses.csusm.edu/hist460ae/genderaniamls.pdf

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Admittedly, I’ve been a little too pre-occupied with other things than blogging right now. I found out a few weeks ago I’d be losing my position at the primate library I work at because we lost a major grant that sustained our department, so I’ve been busy with trying to find a job and getting ready to move into a new apartment. That said, I don’t have anything extremely insightful for anyone and probably won’t until classes get started up again in September. Until then, enjoy!

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