Let’s talk about leks, baby


Imagine a young woman walking into a bar looking for a date. Now imagine the men in the bar attempting to impress her, either by buying her drinks, dancing, or otherwise showing off. At the end of the night, one of these lucky men will be successful and leave with our imaginary woman. This is roughly* the human equivalent of a lek.


How I Met Your Mother’s Barney Stinson is clearly king of this lek.

*very roughly.

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Creature Feature: Patas monkeys

© Anup Shah / naturepl.com

© Anup Shah / naturepl.com

Inhabiting a broad swath of arid savanna woodlands just north of equatorial Africa lives one of the most remarkable monkeys that you have likely never heard of. The patas monkey (Erythrocebus patas) survives in these difficult places with the help of several unique adaptations that allow it to carve out a living in ways unlike most other primates.

typical patas monkey

An example of a typical patas monkey habitat.

Unlike most monkeys, patas spend a great deal of time moving on the ground rather than in trees. The small Acacia trees that dot their open habitats are widespread and force them to roam far each day, sometimes over 6 kilometers, to acquire enough food to survive. That’s far for a monkey not much larger than a house cat. Many of the patas monkeys’ closest relatives live in forests and consume fruits, leaves, and insects. However, the patas’ diet contains large quantities of small arthropods, gums, and plant parts, a composition highly unusual for a monkey of its size. Given their odd diet and challenging environment, it is surprising that patas monkeys seemingly flourish so long as there is available water somewhere nearby. They breed seasonally, and many females reproduce every year, a remarkable feat for a monkey of this size. This is possible due in part to this species’ accelerated rate of growth which allows offspring to be independent of their mothers as early as six months of age! Another feature that may explain this remarkable ability to thrive in these spartan habitats are their relatively long limbs. Longer legs decrease the amount of energy it takes to move, which would allow patas monkeys to maximize the energy gained from their small, widely dispersed foods. These long legs also allow them to run remarkably fast, up to 55 kilometers per hour (35 miles per hour). This likely aids in their ability to evade lions, cheetahs, leopards, jackals, wildcats, caracals, hyenas, and the numerous other terrestrial predators that they might encounter. Of course, escaping from other threats like martial eagles might require a different strategy.

An earthen kiln being used to create charcoal from Acacia trees. Habitat destruction is a serious threat to patas monkeys.

An earthen kiln being used to create charcoal from Acacia trees. Habitat destruction is a serious threat to patas monkeys.

Unlike their close relatives, the pesky vervets (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) that thrive throughout Africa both in the wild as well as around humans, patas monkeys seem unable to depart from their unique way of living. Sadly, because of this, their fate as a species is seemingly tied to the existence of these savanna woodlands. One of the biggest threats to their habitats are humans cutting the trees to make charcoal, trees that the patas rely on for most of their food and even a modicum of shelter.

Unlike the patas, vervet monkeys thrive around humans. They are regarded as pests.

Unlike the patas, vervet monkeys thrive around humans. They are often regarded as pests.


  1. L. A. Isbell, Diet for a Small Primate: Insectivory and Gummivory in the (Large) Patas Monkey (Erythrocebus patas pyrrhonotus). Am J Primatol 45, 381-398 (1998).
  2. L. A. Isbell, J. Pruetz, M. Lewis, T. Young, Locomotor Activity Differences Between Sympatric Patas Monkeys (Erythrocebus patas) and Vervet Monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops): Implications for the Evolution of Long Hindlimb Length in Homo. Am J Phys Anthropol 105, 199-207 (1998).
  3. Y. A. de Jong, T. M. Butynski, L. A. Isbell, C. Lewis, Decline in the geographical range of the southern patas monkey Erythrocebus patas baumstarki in Tanzania. Oryx 43, 267 (2009).
  4. L. A. Isbell, T. P. Young, K. E. Jaffe, A. A. Carlson, R. L. Chancellor, Demography and Life Histories of Sympatric Patas Monkeys, Erythrocebus patas , and Vervets, Cercopithecus aethiops, in Laikipia, Kenya. International journal of primatology 30, 103-124 (2009).
  5. N. Nakagawa, Seasonal, Sex, and Interspecific Differences in Activity Time Budgets and Diets of Patas Monkeys (Erythrocebus patas) and Tantalus Monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops tantalus), Living Sympatrically in Northern Cameroon. Primates 41, 161-174 (2000).
  6. N. Nakagawa, H. Ohsawa, Y. Muroyama, Life-history parameters of a wild group of West African patas monkeys (Erythrocebus patas patas). Primates 44, 281-290 (2003).
  7. L. A. Isbell, J. Chism, Distribution and abundance of patas monkeys (Erythrocebus patas) in Laikipia, Kenya, 1979-2004. Am J Primatol 69, 1223-1235 (2007).
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Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider: Sociality in Spiders

By Cameron Jones


Stegodyphus mimosarum rum work together to subdue a grasshopper that flew into their web.

When you think of spiders, the idea of them living or working together is probably the last thing that crosses your mind. After all, aside from when an egg sac has just hatched, we rarely see spiders together let alone interacting with each other. There is good reason for this: in spiders, group behavior, or what scientists call sociality is very rare. In fact, of the more than 45,000 species of spiders known, only about

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Creature Feature: Steamer Ducks


Steamer ducks, consisting of four species of waterfowl, are pretty odd animals. They are unusual for ducks in several ways, including the fact that they weigh many times more than most ducks and are largely incapable of flight,  with the only species capable of flight being the appropriately named “flying steamer duck” (Tachyeres patachonicus). Unlike other animals in our Creature Feature category, however, these are particularly notable for their violent tendencies, facilitated by bony knobs on their wings. Continue reading

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Featured Creature: European Rabbit


I know what you’re thinking: you came here to read a feature about a creature like a pink fairy armadillo or something else you’ve probably never heard of. I bet the fact that you’ve seen a rabbit or maybe even owned one as a pet makes you think you know rabbits pretty well. Right? Well you may know less than you think…

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Examining Ecotourism – Does it stress out the monkeys?

By Dominique Bertrand
YummyLizardEcotourism is a growing industry. In 2001, United States citizens alone spent 32 billion dollars traveling overseas to view wildlife in their native habitats. This amount is expected to triple by 20201. Local populations often benefit financially from this industry due to the demand for lodging, food, and guides. However, this increase in human travel creates problems for native species of interest. In primate species specifically, there is evidence that unavoidable, chronic exposure to tourism can be stressful, as indicated by behavioral and physiological responses, even in sites active for decades2,3.

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Create Feature: Wolverine

If you’re planning on dressing up as Wolverine for Halloween this year, folks here at the Ethogram suggest you start looking for a caribou leg and not retractable nails for your costume. Yep- that’s right- wolverines are not just a Marvel comic book character- they’re one of the most elusive and aggressive mammalian predators of the North!

WolverineWolverines (Gulo gulo) get their scientific name from the Latin word, “gulo”, which means glutton. This name is fitting for the wolverine as they have a voracious appetite. Primarily scavengers, wolverines have a diverse diet which includes moose, caribou, snowshoe hare, beavers, whales, seals, fish, birds and berries. Their gluttonous eating habits are thought to fuel a fast metabolism compared to other mammalian predators. To find food, wolverines can move large distances. One radio-collared wolverine, M3, summited Mt. Cleveland in Glacier National Park in only 90 minutes: a steep ascent of almost 5,000 feet (that’s almost a vertical mile)! Continue reading

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Creature Feature: Cuttlefish


Common cuttlefish. Credit: Jarek Tuszynski.

You’ve most likely heard of squid and octopii, but have you ever seen their close relative, the Cuttlefish (Order: Sepiidae)?!  There are about 120 species of cuttlefish around the world, exhibiting an amazing array of behaviors and fascinating physiological adaptations.


Cuttlebone. Credit: Mariko Goda.

Like other cephalopods, cuttlefish are marine animals with at least 8 Continue reading

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A Murder of Crows: West Nile in the Winter

By Mitch Hinton

Hundreds of Crows departing from their roost in the early morning

Caption: Hundreds of Crows departing from their roost in the early morning

It’s fall and winter is rapidly approaching. For many in Davis this brings to mind mildly cooler temperatures and wetter conditions (we hope). To me however, as a bird enthusiast, fall signals the influx of migratory American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) and their formation of massive Continue reading

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Creature Feature: Peacock Mantis Shrimp

Photo credit: Michael Bok. Found via National Geographic

Photo credit: Michael Bok. Found via National Geographic

The peacock mantis shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllarus), sometimes known as the harlequin or painted mantis shrimp, are found in the warmer waters of the Indian and Pacific oceans. While commonly known for their bright coloration, the peacock mantis shrimp has one of the most advanced eyes and vision systems in the animal kingdom, far beyond those we have as humans. While we have three types of photoreceptors (red, green, and blue), the mantis shrimp have anywhere from 12-16. This means that not only can they see more colors than us, but they can also see well into Continue reading

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