For bonobo males (Pan paniscus), married life is far from easy: recent research has revealed a curious behavior of females, apparently aimed at deceiving potential partners about their fertility, preventing males from know precisely when they are ready to procreate.
In this way the competition for mating diminishes and the females manage to exercise a sort of social control within their group.
If the male falls for it. In many species of primates the females claim to be ready to mate by sending visible signs to the males: the skin around the genitals changes color and the whole area, during the menstrual period, becomes swollen and visibly swells.
But in bonobo females these messages are unreliable: the tissues can in fact change in shape and color even in the absence of ovulation, or remain unchanged even in the most fertile period.
Confused and happy. The competition between males to guarantee the offspring is all the more heated the more the females send precise signals on their fertility: but the males of bonobo, not being able to trust what the potential companions communicate, tend to maintain a low level of aggressiveness even in the mating season.
According to Pamela Heidi Douglas, the researcher at the Max Plank Institute who conducted the study, bonobo males have to rely on other systems to find out if the females are ready to mate. For example, they have to spend more time with them devoting themselves to grooming than arguing with other suitors.
Peace and lies. These alternative strategies could be the basis of the relative peace that reigns within the bonobo communities, unlike what happens among other primates.
This unique social control exercised by the females seems to work even if the bonobos are polygamous: the males mate with more females, and the females with more males.
According to Douglas, the ability of females to deceive males about their sexual availability and their freedom to mate with whomever they want would have led them to the top of the social ladder, guaranteeing them, in fact, control over the group.