Behavioral thermoregulation in a sexually and developmentally dichromatic neotropical primate, the black-and-gold howling monkey (Alouatta caraya)

Am J Phys Anthropol. 1998 Aug;106(4):533-46. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1096-8644(199808)106:4<533::AID-AJPA8>3.0.CO;2-J.


Behavioral thermoregulation in primates may provide a means for the conservation of heat during periods of low ambient temperature and/or food shortage as well as a way to dissipate heat under hot conditions. This article focuses on behavioral thermoregulation in a sexually dichromatic primate, the black-and-gold howling monkey (Alouatta caraya). Two models have been proposed to explain the evolution of sexual dichromatism in this species: thermoregulation and sexual selection. Five hypotheses associated with thermoregulatory behaviors are tested. These are as follows: (1) energy-conserving postures are used mainly under low ambient temperatures; (2) sunny resting places are selected during periods of low temperature; (3) exposure of the less-insulated ventral region to sunlight decreases with increasing temperature; (4) black-colored adult males use energy-conserving postures, sunny places, and exposure of the ventral region to sunlight less frequently than do blonde-colored adult females; and (5) smaller individuals use energy-conserving postures, sunny places, and exposure of the ventral region to sunlight in significantly greater frequency than do larger individuals. Over a 12-month period, behavioral data were collected on a free-ranging habituated group of 15-17 howlers of all age-sex classes. Ambient temperature was measured each hour. The results indicate that during resting, howlers showed a consistent use of heat-conserving postures, showed a preference for sunny places, and exposed their ventral region to sunlight under low ambient temperatures. A preference for shady places, heat-dissipating postures, and exposure of the back were observed under high ambient temperatures. Despite sex differences in adult color patterns and differences in size between age classes, no significant age or sex differences in thermoregulatory behaviors were detected. Failure to confirm a thermoregulation model implies that sexual selection may be responsible for sexual dichromatism in this species.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alouatta / physiology
  • Alouatta / psychology*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Biological Evolution
  • Body Constitution
  • Body Temperature Regulation*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Pigmentation
  • Posture
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Sex Characteristics