Food sharing in monogamous owl monkeys (Aotus spp)

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Steven Green, Committee Chair


Food sharing is costly in that food donors suffer the immediate cost of reduced potential caloric intake. Individuals that share food may experience fitness benefits, however, by having more mating opportunities, more offspring, and/or better quality offspring than individuals that do not share food. The patterns of food sharing in a socially monogamous nocturnal primate, the owl monkey (Aotus spp.) were examined to determine whether food sharing (1) is related to the formation and maintenance of pairbonds, (2) is associated with mating behavior, (3) plays a role in mate-guarding and (4) is related to the increased energetic demands that females experience during pregnancy and lactation.In captivity, both male and female owl monkeys regularly shared food with offspring and mates. Food transfers occurred upon pair-formation and after pair-bonds had become established. Food sharing in owl monkeys is not associated with sexual activity or mate-guarding behavior. Females received food from their mates most often during lactation. There was a significant negative relationship between the rate of food transfers to lactating females and interbirth interval, suggesting that there is a nutritional benefit of receiving food and a potential fitness benefit both for females and males. Wild owl monkeys exhibited similar patterns of food sharing with young. Two pregnant females were observed to share food with their mates. Food transfers from reproductive females to other adults are rare in any taxon.These findings suggest that there may not only be fitness advantages associated with sharing food with young but also fitness advantages of sharing food with lactating females and with males that invest in paternal care. Food sharing may be more common in owl monkeys than in other monogamous mammals because owl monkeys rarely allogroom and do not duet, two behaviors typically associated with social bonding. In owl monkeys, food transfers may have initially evolved to increase the nutrition of young and lactating females but may now be a ritualized behavior. Physiological adaptations for nocturnality and the intense amount of paternal care may have contributed to the extensive amount and relaxed nature of food sharing in owl monkeys.


Anthropology, Physical; Biology, Zoology

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