In ungulates, rank order is determined by differences in weight, body size, weapon size and age. In the Caprini tribe (Bovidae: Caprinae), adult male Himalayan tahr are unique to show different coat colours, but no sexual dimorphism in weapons. A highly significant correlation between hair colour and rank order was found during the rut: males with a lighter coloured ruff dominated over darker ruffed ones, in both aggressive interactions and access to oestrus females. We studied colour-based dominance in relation to weight, age and testosterone levels, which establish the social rank in most ungulates. No differences in weight and testosterone concentrations were found between adult male colour classes, but males with paler ruffs were significantly younger than darker adult males. The distribution of physical traumas from fights confirmed that younger, lighter-coloured males had a higher rank than older, darker males, a pattern which is unusual amongst ungulates. Coat colour seems to work as a signal of rank in male-male aggressive interactions and it changes according to age, whereas the relevant physiological determinants deserve further research. Intrasexual male competition has not changed weapon size or shape in the Himalayan tahr, but ruff colours are apparently used to signal rank and dominance. Colour patterns of adult males may then be homologous to ritualised weapons, apparently being a unique feature of male tahr amongst mammals.
Aggression/physiology Aggression/psychology Aging/blood Animals Animals, Wild Body Weight Hair Color* Male Ruminants/blood Ruminants/psychology* Sexual Behavior, Animal*/physiology Social Dominance* Testosterone/blood