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Keywords:

  • Sex swelling;
  • Size;
  • Gorilla;
  • Sexual selection

Abstract

Cyclical changes in the vulvae of five adult lar gibbons (Hylobates [H.] lar) were studied and compared with those of eight lowlandgorillas. The results reveal that the gibbons have relatively conspicuous and specialized sexual swellings that alter shape and appearance during the ovarian cycle. At maximum extent, the genital swellings of gorillas are relatively and absolutely smaller than those of gibbons, and lack the distinctive coloration seen in the genital swellings of the smaller apes. We conclude that the female gibbon's sexual swelling is a far more conspicuous and effective signal of estrus status than that of the gorilla, and that this is not explicable in terms of allometry. Previous investigators have pointed to one-male mating systems, monogamous pair-bonding, or an arboreal habitat as reasons that some primates should have less conspicuous signals of estrus than others. Our findings for the gibbon are the reverse of these predictions, and indicate that sexual selection other than by intermale competition for estrous females is implicated in the ultimate causation of the gibbon's swelling. The adaptive value and significance of the female gibbon's sexual signals remain unclear, However. © 1992 Wiley-Liss, Inc.