18 February 2005

Baboon blokes go bananas over big bottoms

It’s generally been thought that only female humans feel the need to preen – until now. Because the males generally compete for the attentions of females,


If you thought the gym rats and cosmetics devotees were over the top with their grooming, consider the animal kingdom and the extreme measures some species take to look good. Now it seems the baboons have taken a leaf out of Jennifer Lopez’s book – or is that the other way around? Whatever, it’s the perfect excuse to have a toned behind.

Male frigate birds have massive red bulges under their beaks to attract females. Male peacocks fan out dazzling feathers to woo the drab babes of their species.

It’s generally been thought that only female humans feel the need to preen – until now. Because the males generally compete for the attentions of females, most species have more or less monochrome females and Technicolor males.

Enter the female baboon – well, that’s what’s on the mind of the male, anyway. Like her comely homo sapiens counterpart Jennifer Lopez, one species of baboon is noted for the shape of her delicately dimpled derrière.

Unlike Ms Lopez’s, though, the baboon’s bottom can change shape. The newest edition of Nature has found that the degree to which the female baboon’s bottom swells when she’s sexually receptive is a reliable indication of her reproductive reliability.

Some researchers now believe this is partly why human males tend to go for big breasts or a high waist-hip ratio.

Researchers have found that the females with larger swellings consistently begin breeding at an earlier age than their less tumescent teammates. They also tend to have more offspring, and more of these are likely to survive.

Having spotted the females with the biggest bottoms, the males are prepared to duke it out more fiercely for their attentions than with the more slimline simians. In doing so, they’re more likely to get hurt.

This means that the females will get the bruised ones with the best genes. What surprised the researchers was that the baboons need to advertise. Their theory is that males weigh up the risk of injury with the likelihood of mating, and act according to the ratio of risk versus reward.

This means that the female baboons do something fairly unique to the animal world – and arguably more akin to La Med on a Saturday night – indirectly competing with one another.

For the female baboons, the stakes are higher. Their bodies burn valuable energy to produce the swellings, increasing their body weight by more than a tenth and making them more susceptible to parasites. The bumper bottoms also lack one major advantage of the economy size ones: they’re uncomfortable to sit on.

The effort taken to come up with the bigger backside assures the males of reliable reproductive material, or the less fecund and robust females would simply “cheat” – and there’s no Advertising Standards Authority in the Bushveld.

So it’s not just humans that are fashion victims, although in the animal world, that’s usually left up to the males. – (William Smook)

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