Washington, July 25 : Researchers at the University of Gottingen's German Primate Center have found that young female red-fronted lemurs in Madagascar adopt male coloration to dupe their aggressive female groupmates.
The researchers say that the "cross dressing" helps prevent them from older females, who would attack them to reduce sexual competition.
In their study report, the researchers have revealed that all red-fronted lemurs are born with the same greyish brown fur, and rusty-red crowns that distinguish adult males.
Seven to 17 weeks later, females' coats change to a cinnamon hue and their crowns white, according to the researchers.
"We knew from our longer-term observations that there was a lot of female aggression in red-fronted lemurs," National Geographic quoted study author Claudia Fichtel as saying.
"Females compete fiercely over limited breeding opportunities, and we wanted to know if hiding femininity was a way to avoid being attacked," she said.
During the study, a wild lemur population in the Kirindy forest in western Madagascar was monitored for five months.
The researchers recorded behavioural changes among the subjects as their coats changed colour.
Closely looking at older females and monitoring their attacks, Fichtel and her colleagues found that males and young females disguised as males were not targeted by the hostile older females.
The researchers are of the opinion that disguising as males has evolved as a defence to keep females from attacking, until the masquerading females are strong enough to handle it.
That tends to be between 7 and 17 weeks of age, they say.
Fichtel said that red-fronted lemurs were not the only primates whose youngsters were coloured differently than adults, for such a disparity had often been explained in other species as an adaptation that makes infants more noticeable to groupmates.
Adults are then more likely to care for and protect infants, she added.
The study appears in the July issue of the Journal of Physical Anthropology.