“I am Going to Groom You”: Multiple Forms of Play Fighting in Gray Mouse Lemurs (Microcebus murinus)

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Play fighting is a commonly reported form of play that involves competitive interactions that generally do not escalate to serious fighting. Although in many species what are competed over are the body targets that are bitten or struck in serious fighting, for many others, the competition can be over other forms of contact, such as sex, social grooming, and predation. In primates, the most detailed studies have been of species such as Old World monkeys, that engage in play fighting that simulates serious fighting, but reports of a number of others, especially among nocturnal prosimians, have noted that play fighting can also involve simulation of sex and grooming. The present study on captive born gray mouse lemurs (Microcebus murinus) provides a quantitative assessment of the relative engagement by juveniles in play fighting involving agonistic and amicable targets. About 80% of play fighting involves competing to groom or mount one another, with a minority involving competing to bite. That these forms of play fighting may be distinct from one another is suggested by the finding that attack on one target does not lead to counterattack on another. The findings are discussed in terms of the evolution and mechanisms underlying play fighting in primates and more widely among animals.

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