Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Porter, Leila M.

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Anthropology


Lemurs are unusual in that, unlike in most other primates, females have more power than males. This is evident by females receiving priority access to foods and preferred spaces, and frequent grooming. Rebecca Lewis provided a framework to analyze the basis of female power that distinguishes between true dominance and leverage. Dominance is defined as the physical ability to overpower an individual, whereas leverage is the ability to influence others based on intangible resources, such as social currency like grooming or the potential for mating. This study aimed to investigate female power in the critically endangered ruffed lemurs (genus Varecia). Previous studies have shown that female ruffed lemurs have priority access to food and are groomed more than males, but this research occurred before the power framework was developed, so the mechanisms behind the females’ power remain largely unexplored. I observed captive, mixed-sex groups of Varecia variegata and Varecia rubra over a two-month period at the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, North Carolina. I used body mass as a proxy to measure a female’s physical dominance and used age as a predictor of maturity and leverage, utilizing the center’s existing veterinary records. I recorded data via continuous, focal animal sampling for seven hours per day, five days a week for approximately 275 total observation hours. I recorded social behaviors following Pereira’s ethogram, including agonism and submission. I classified conflicts as “decided” if only one individual showed unambiguous submissive signaling to the other. I used generalized linear mixed models to evaluate the influence of body mass, age, and reproductive maturity on the outcome of intersexual conflict. I also collected spatial proximity data via a combination of instantaneous and continuous sampling. I analyzed these data using generalized linear mixed models and the Hinde-Index to determine the responsibility of individuals for maintaining proximity to their group members. The results of this study indicate that captive Varecia exhibit female dominance to a lesser degree than other scientists described previously. While females were significantly more likely to win intersexual conflicts than males, the ratio of decided female victories to male victories was smaller than reported in previous studies. Additionally, these data provide evidence that weight-based dominance is the source of female power rather than leverage. Male Varecia were not significantly more likely to approach females than females were to males, and the average distance between males and females was not significantly smaller than that of male pairs. I found no significant difference in conflict outcomes or spatial proximity between V. variegata and V. rubra. These results show that female power in the genus Varecia is not as prominent as other species, and that further research is needed to better understand the mechanisms behind it.


85 pages




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