First Advisor

Natalie Vasey

Term of Graduation

Winter 2023

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Anthropology






Cooperative breeding, Cooperative breeding in primates, Cooperative breeding in Varecia rubra, Male care in primates, Male care in varecia rubra, Varecia rubra



Physical Description

1 online resource (ix, 54 pages)


Observations of variegated lemurs in the wild have revealed a cooperative breeding strategy including extensive male care to young, primarily in the form of infant guarding. This thesis presents an analysis of the first quantitative assessment of true paternal and true maternal care from pair-housed, ex-situ red variegated lemurs (V. rubra) housed at the Lemur Conservation Foundation’s Myakka City Lemur Reserve in western Florida. This study aims to answer specific research questions: How do paternal and maternal care compare when resources are abundant, and paternity is certain? Is male care instinctual? Is it driven by energetic necessity? If male care is instinctual, males can be predicted to offer substantial care to young regardless of whether females experience relatively lower energetic costs due to optimal nutrition and healthcare. If male care is driven by energetic necessity, then when energy is abundant, females can be predicted to offer sufficient care to young in the absence of multiple caregivers. The primary hypothesis therefore is that both males and females will offer substantial care to young in the Reserve setting. The study was conducted in 2007 and 2008 at the Lemur Conservation Foundation’s Myakka City Lemur Reserve in western Florida. The study population comprised three litters and their parents over the course of two years. Focal litter and focal caregiver sampling at 5-min time point intervals was used to record litter activity and caregiving behaviors of long duration to determine percentage of time spent on each. All occurrence sampling was used to capture caregiving behaviors of short duration to determine rates of occurrence. The results indicate that mothers offer more care to litters than fathers both in terms of time allocation and frequency of care. In fact, they spend over 40% of their time engaged in caregiving activities, primarily guarding, grooming, and nursing, and to a lesser extent playing, huddling, defense, and infant transport. Fathers spend a considerable 23% of their time engaged in caregiving, primarily guarding, supplemented with grooming, and playing, and with some instances of huddling. The results of this thesis research support the prediction that males and females both provide substantial care to young, even when energetic needs are met by provisioned diet and healthcare. However, males are also apparently adjusting the care they provide as energetic cost to the mother rises (i.e., when mothers reach peak lactation, fathers take on more caregiving activities). Thus, male care is likely both instinctual and modulates in accordance with nursing mothers’ energetic demands.


© 2023 Payton Elizabeth Zuver

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