A surprising find reveals that wild red-fronted lemurs (Eulemur rufrifrons) have the unique ability to recognize members of their own species, according to research in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.
This discovery comes from an international team of researchers, who discovered that red-fronted lemurs spent much more time looking at pictures of their own kind than at pictures of other, closely related species. Not only did the lemurs pay more attention to their own kind, but they smelled those images as well. That suggests they use two different sensory modalities to tell members of their species apart.
Not only did the lemurs look at specific photos for extended periods of time, but the more genetically different individuals were, the less time lemurs would spend looking at their pictures. Females also showed a more pronounced response than males — a trend that suggests they better respond to differences in fur patterns — and the team also found evidence of sexual variation in color vision.
That recognition is vitally important in the wild because, not only do females need to be able to recognize common species, they also need to note subtle changes in order to avoid incest. Looking for the best mate is great, but analyzing a genetically diverse one is also extremely important.
“These findings are particularly interesting because Eulemur species actually hybridize in nature – that is they mate with individuals from other species – even though they are able to recognize individuals of their own species,” added Dr Rakotonirina. “Future studies in hybrid zones – places where two or more species occur together – are required to examine whether experience with closely related species affects their ability to discriminate between species.”