Behavioral and ecological consequences of sex-based differences in gustatory anatomy in Cebus apella

Magdalena N. Muchlinski, Beth A. Docherty, Laura J. Alport, Anne M. Burrows, Timothy D. Smith, Sylvia M. Paesani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Fungiform papillae (FPs) are the only gustatory structures on the anterior tongue. Taste buds (TBs), which are located in FPs, house taste receptors. Each TB has a taste pore (TP) by which tastants are transmitted. In humans, FP and TB densities correlate with taste sensitivity and food preferences. Females have higher FP densities than males in Homo, Pan, and Cebus. Homo, Pan, and Cebus also have larger brains, slower ontogenetic development, and higher maternal investment in offspring compared to most primates. An increase in maternal investment places intense pressure on females to 1) obtain high-quality foods, and 2) detect potential toxins at low levels. This study examines sex differences in FPs and TPs (a TB surrogate) in 11 Cebus apella to test the hypothesis that higher FP density in females may be an adaptation specific to reproductive strategies of females. Tongues were imaged using an environmental scanning electron microscope; from these images FP surface area, FP density, TP count, and TP densities were calculated. We found that there were no significant differences between males and females in the number of TPs per FP. However, we did find that females do have larger FP surface areas and higher FP densities than males. The anatomical evidence indicates that females may have greater taste sensitivity than males because females have more FP than males. Future research on food preference and selection in Cebus is expected to show sex-specific behaviors similar to those observed in Homo and Pan.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2179-2192
Number of pages14
JournalAnatomical Record
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Dietary adaptations
  • New World monkeys
  • Papillae
  • Sensory ecology
  • Taste
  • Taste buds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Biotechnology
  • Histology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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