Mammalian Biology

, Volume 94, Issue 1, pp 66–68 | Cite as

A recent shift in the pigmentation phenotype of a wild Neotropical primate

  • Ismael GalvánEmail author
  • Alberto Jorge
  • Francisco Sánchez-Murillo
  • Gustavo Gutiérrez-Espeleta
Short communication


The colors of primates are among the most diverse phenotypes in mammals. These colors are mostly produced by the deposition of melanin pigments in hairs. Many species show considerable variability in pigmentation, but this is always temporarily fixed. Here we report the first rapid change in the pigmentation phenotype of a primate. In the last five years, the pelage of mantled howler monkeys Alouattapalliata inhabiting Costa Rica has started to change from fully black to yellowish, constituting a conspicuous color change. Raman spectroscopy analyses of hairs show that the change is due to a shift toward the production of the sulphurated form of melanin, termed pheomelanin. Most animals with anomalous coloration have been observed in forests surrounding intensive cultivations where sulfur-containing pesticides are frequently used. Exposure to environmental sulfur may increase the availability of sulfhydryls to cells, which may favor pheomelanin synthesis in melanocytes and explain the pigmentation shift.


Costa Rica Hair pigmentation Melanogen Esis Pheomelanin Primates 


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Copyright information

© Deutsche Gesellschaft für Säugetierkunde 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ismael Galván
    • 1
    Email author
  • Alberto Jorge
    • 2
  • Francisco Sánchez-Murillo
    • 3
  • Gustavo Gutiérrez-Espeleta
    • 4
  1. 1.Departamento de Ecología Evolutiva, Estación Biológica de DoñanaSevillaSpain
  2. 2.Laboratorio de Técnicas Analíticas No Destructivas, Museo Nacional de Ciencias NaturalesCSICMadridSpain
  3. 3.Nosara Refuge for WildlifeNosara, GuanacasteCosta Rica
  4. 4.Escuela de BiologíaUniversidad de Costa RicaSan JoséCosta Rica

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