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Abstract

Many mammal species adopt marking postures that elevate their scent deposits. The most extreme of these is handstand marking, in which an individual reverses against an upright object, flings its hind legs into the air above its back and balances bipedally on its fore feet. The resulting anogenital deposit is thus raised one full body length above ground level. It has been suggested that this energetically costly form of marking serves to provide conspecifics with information about the marker's body size and hence competitive ability. However, this explanation assumes that the height of an individuals’ deposit does reflect accurately its body size, an assumption that has never been tested in any hand-standing species. This study investigated the relationship between body size and handstand mark height in a wild population of dwarf mongooses (Helogale parvula) in South Africa. We found that although body size and marking height were correlated positively for female dwarf mongooses, they were not related for males. Male dwarf mongooses (who are subject to intrasexual competition from outside their group) invested more heavily in anogenital range marking, marking at three times the female frequency and placing their deposits significantly higher than females (although they were not dimorphic). Males that were particularly vulnerable to rivals (i.e. those that were small for their age) tended to mark higher than more robust age-mates, in keeping with the predictions of Adams & Mesterton-Gibbons’ (1995, J. Theor. Biol.175, 405–421). model of deceptive threat communication. These findings suggest strongly that the height of anogenital scent deposits is of social significance to dwarf mongooses.