Pink-to-red anogenital and facial sexual skin occurs in females of many primate species. Since female sexual skin color varies with reproductive state, it has long been assumed that color acts to stimulate male sexual interest. Although there is supportive evidence for this as regards anogenital skin, it is unclear whether this is also the case for facial sexual skin. In this study we experimentally manipulated digital facial and hindquarter images of female rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) for color within the natural range of variation. The images were presented to adult male conspecifics to assess whether the males exhibited visual preferences for red vs. non-red female coloration, and whether preferences varied with anatomical region. The males displayed significantly longer gaze durations in response to reddened versions of female hindquarters, but not to reddened versions of faces. This suggests that female facial coloration may serve an alternative purpose to that of attracting males, and that the signal function of sexual skin and the intended recipients may vary across anatomical regions.
(c) 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.