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Top Story

‘Mean girl’ meerkats can make twice as much testosterone as males

Testosterone: It’s often lauded as the hormone that makes males bigger, bolder and stronger. Now, a pair of Duke University studies has identified one group of animals, the meerkats of the southern tip of Africa, in which females can produce even more testosterone than males. Female meerkats with naturally high levels of testosterone-related hormones are more likely to be leaders, but they also pay a price for being macho, the studies show. Squirrel-sized members of the mongoose family, meerkats live in groups ruled by a single dominant female with as many as 50 lower-ranking male and female helpers. In meerkats, it’s the ladies who do most of the growling, biting and chasing. The top-ranking meerkat queens are the biggest bullies, shoving, charging and swiping food from the females beneath them. The boss lady meerkat even banishes other females who manage to get pregnant or she kills their pups. This keeps the other females devoted to feeding and watching over her babies instead of their own. For “mean girl” meerkats, this bullying behavior seems to pay off. Dominant females tend to live longer than subordinate meerkats, and they give birth to 80 percent of the surviving litters.

Visit Website | Image credit: Charli Davies, Duke University