I have a species of early primates (lemur-like but not lemurs) developing into an intelligent species like humans (and yes, there is some influence from an intelligent species, it's not 100% natural if you're thinking it's unlikely). Now, since lemur catta (ring-tailed lemurs) are matriarchal I wanted the society to be too, especially since there is a high degree of difference in colour vision with most males colour blind and most female with trichromacy.

My question is: what would a species that evolves like this look like?

From the time they were hunter-gatherers I assumed females could be the band leaders, standing back and ordering a band of males either to trap larger herbivores while looking out for predators with their better vision Or… well indicating to males which fruits to pick while they do the dirty work of actually carrying stuff. This would have led females to evolve to be taller so they'd see better and males to be lean and agile.

This reflection started with beards but it's also about any secondary sexual characteristics I guess. Which is breasts, beard, etc… so would females grow beards? Or is it necessarily tied to testosterone? Could males do without those secondary characteristics, cause I read (https://www.sbs.com.au/topics/science/humans/article/2016/07/25/ask-evolution-why-do-men-have-beards) that it helped males appear more aggressive.

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    $\begingroup$ The species would look like you want it to look like. Some of our distant ancestors looked pretty much like lemurs. The Romans used to shave their chins, and I'm pretty sure that they appeared aggressive enough. There are plenty of monkeys where both sexes exhibit beards and whiskers. There is no relationship whatsoever between the social structure of our small tree-dwelling ancestors and us; why would there be one in your species? And it's not as if matriarchy was unknown among humans. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Sep 14 '19 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ I mean having a traditional matrilineal organisation from back at the start, the equivalent of our early Australopithecus / link between common ancestor with chimps and us — maybe around Toumai or Orrorin — and if you look at chimps they are mostly patriarchal. As for our distant ancestors, I'm actually basin myself on adapidae. As for the beard as a sexual character, it tends, as far as I'm aware, to be more often found in males. $\endgroup$
    – Nierninwa
    Sep 14 '19 at 16:28
  • $\begingroup$ There are two species of chimpanzees, both equally closely related to us. One of the species of chimpanzees, the bonobos or pigmy chimpanzees (Pan paniscus), exhibits a matriarchal social structure. Go figure. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Sep 14 '19 at 16:44
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    $\begingroup$ Not an answer, but a related point. Color blindness is a major problem for gathering - good to eat vs poisonous fruits distinguish themselves with color. However color blindness is great for hunting - color blind people can easily see through camouflage. Could be like a reverse lion pride, where the males are expected to go hunt but they are still smaller and have a lower social status. $\endgroup$
    – MParm
    Sep 14 '19 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP I know but I believe the theory is that the bonobos are a bit of the oddity. I believe the theory is that our common ancestor was closer to modern day chimps. $\endgroup$
    – Nierninwa
    Sep 14 '19 at 20:15

Getting rid of the lions. Lion males are jerks.

The new matriarchal primates will have a system that is a mix of matrilineal elephants and showy bird males.

Elephants have a totally matriarchal, matrilineal system.


Elephants are a matriarchal society; that is, one that is led by a head cow, who presides over her herd of females. Each herd is made up of mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts. They are guided by the oldest and largest female of the herd. This herd sticks closely together, rejoicing at the birth of a calf and mourning at the death of a member.

The herd of females, although maintaining close bonds among themselves, also interacts well with other herds, families, and clans. An average herd of immediate family will comprise of 5 to 15 adult elephants as well as immature males and females...

The male, on the other hand, lives apart from the matriarchal herd, and travels alone or with other males in a bachelor pod. The drift from the herd starts during adolescence, at which time the young bulls start to spend less and less time with the herd. Eventually, the break is made completely. After this distance is established, the bulls will live solitary lives, mingling with the females of the family only for mating purposes

But elephant males are big jerks too, so we will borrow from birds, where the females pick among males who are trying hard to impress them. At mating season, all members of the species get together at the lek. The males show up and compete for mates. They do not fight or bully each other. The males are amazing, colorful and beautiful. They can sing and they can dance and that is what they do. It is the best show ever; something like KCON but with all boys. Reproductive aged females pick the male they like best.

Then the males rest up and drift off, working on their dance moves and songs for next year. Side benefit: the females all get pregnant at once, so they can help each other nurse and raise babies of the same age (borrowed from lions, but it is a very cool thing).

How they look: Females would have a primate body type appropriate for their feeding style, social style and ecosystem. Ground dwelling lemurs and baboons are not so far apart. I would pick baboon-type females because they are durable tough creatures and good for a primate life style.

Male baboons fight a lot and so are robust and have big teeth. Your males are not like that. They do not look much like the females at all. Example: the widowbird.

widowbird male and female https://www.worldbirdphotos.com/photo/widowbird-red-collared-euplectes-ardens-male-female-uganda/

Males are spectacular Kpop stars with huge eyes, perfect teeth, and shiny manes. They have sweet voices and fluid moves. Only the fittest can keep up such appearances while at the same time finding food and fighting off predators, which is why the birds do it that way. Occasionally a young male might not have his lyrics down, or an older one might be a little more stiff in his dance moves but that is how it goes.

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    $\begingroup$ So we're looking at elegant, attractive males that perform for the females who choose who to pick and the females are just… adapted to survive as best as possible? Also I really like having reproduction at the same time cause my species was not really capable of ovulating every month as far as I could work out and this helps a lot. Would you see the females developing secondary characteristics, like human males have beards? Or would they just… not? Cause for example breasts are most likely a sexual characteristic and the constant swelling might not be needed here. $\endgroup$
    – Nierninwa
    Sep 15 '19 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ Human style breasts are definitely not needed. There is no need to advertise sex or reproductive status to anyone; everyone knows. But I could imagine a species in which dominance led to phenotypic differences and that happens to male lions; when they are defeated their manes fall out. I do not know of any species where phenotypic difference individual to individual happens to females. Social females look pretty much the same one to the next. The difference is behavioral. But you could give dominant ones manes or different coloring or something if that helps your story. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Sep 15 '19 at 20:33

Female hyenas have genitals that looks like they belongs to a male.

What humans are concerned, women have wider hips than males because of childbirth. The more narrow hips makes men faster runner than women, so if the hunting requires running, males would probably be the ones who does the running part. Assuming the females of intelligent lemurs have wide hips as well.

Also, babies needs to be breastfed, and so females with babies can be too far away from their children, and running around with them (and while pregnant) would slow them down. Unless the females in a group gives birth at the same time of year, so with several mothers, some could feed the babies of others while they are away. (the male Dayak fruit bats can also produce milk, but is obviously not a primate)

Males are often stronger and bigger than females due to testosterone. Sexual frustration and the competition to mate leads males in many species to fight to get access to the females. And the strongest and angriest ones wins. The bonobos, which have matriarchs, have solved this problem by allowing everyone to have sex with everyone. I think one of the few exceptions are sons and mothers. They no longer have to fight to get sex, and with one of more partners available all the time, there is very little if any sexual frustration in the group. So there is no longer the same selection pressure for the males to be large and strong.

What size are concerned, it depends on how they live. If the females don't have to go out and hunt for themselves, they could be larger and therefore give birth to more children (or at least twins). Maybe there could be dominating females that prevents less dominate females from reproduce through hormones. But to produce more children at once it is a good idea to be larger. So access to sex all the time could make the males smaller, and females who produce more children could make them larger. It all depends on their way of life. If they are nomads that moves fast and efficient from one location to the next or have to run to get away from predators, being big and heavy is no longer a good idea.

  • $\begingroup$ So I'm guessing the best way to answer this is: they'd look however the hell I'd want them to look? $\endgroup$
    – Nierninwa
    Sep 15 '19 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ Well, as long as their appearance can be explained logically and biologically, for reasons like sexual and natural selection (or the absence of certain forms of selection), you should have pretty free hands. $\endgroup$
    – Tim Hansen
    Sep 15 '19 at 16:15

Many human cultures (http://mentalfloss.com/article/31274/6-modern-societies-where-women-literally-rule) are matriarchical, with no distinct biological difference from males and females of other cultures (may have physical differences of appearance).

So you can have the lemurs evolve like regular humans.

In fact polygenism (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polygenism) is the theory that humans evolved from different species (of apes), and yet we are all so similar. Similarly, in mythology, there are stories galore of multiple animals standing and convening like humans in good council's etc.

So lemurs can grow up to be like humans as well, as matriarchy is a social phenomenon, not a biological one.

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    $\begingroup$ Um… polygenism isn't accurate though… and here I'm talking about a species that is matriarchal and matrilineal from the start. $\endgroup$
    – Nierninwa
    Sep 14 '19 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ Polygenism meant homo sapiens instead of evolving all races in Africa, had Eurasian races to be descendant of ex. Neanderthal or some local hominids. Let's say that according to recent DNA data this theory is in a few percent right for all out of Africa humans. ;) $\endgroup$
    – Shadow1024
    Sep 14 '19 at 18:32
  • $\begingroup$ I mean, it is not the exact definition, also Neaderthal are our closest relative, we separated about a million years ago, so you know, that doesn't really count… $\endgroup$
    – Nierninwa
    Sep 14 '19 at 20:04

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