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Estrous synchrony is the synchronization of the Estrous cycle amongst the female members of a species living in close proximity to one another. This phenomena in humans is known as menstrual synchrony but has been reported in other species including Norway rats,[1] hamsters,[2] chimpanzees,[3] and Golden lion tamarins.[4] In non-human primates, the term may also refer to the degree of overlap of menstrual or estrous cycles, which is the overlap of estrous or menses of two or more females in a group due, for example, to seasonal breeding.[5]

However, as with early human studies on menstrual synchrony, non-human estrous synchrony studies also were criticized for methodological problems.[6][7][8]

Subsequent studies failed to find estrous synchrony in rats,[9] hamsters,[10] chimpanzees,[11][12] and Golden lion tamarins.[13]

Rats Edit

McClintock also conducted a 1978 study of estrous synchrony in Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus). She reported that the estrous cycles of female rats living in groups of five were more regular than those of rats housed singly. She also reported that social interaction, and more importantly a shared air supply that allowed for olfactory communication enhanced the regularity of the rats’ cycles and synchronized their estrous phases after two or three cycles. McClintock hypothesized that estrous synchrony was caused by pheromones and that a coupled oscillator mechanism produced estrous synchrony in rats[1][14] This observation of menstrual synchrony in Norway rats is not the same as the Whitten effect because it was the result of the continuous interactions of ongoing cycles within a female group, rather than the result of an exposure to a single external stimulus such as male odor, which in the Whitten effect releases all exposed females simultaneously from an acyclic condition.[15]

The coupled-ocillator hypothesis asserted that females rats release to pheromone signals. One signal is released during the follicular phase of the estrous cycle and it shortens estrous cycles. The second signal is released during the ovulatory phase of the estrous cycle and it lengthens estrous cycles. When rats live together or share the same air supply, the pheromones released by each female in a group as a function of the phase of her estrous cycle causes other females in the group to either lengthen or shorten their estrous cycles. This mutual lengthening and shortening of estrous cycles was theorized to produce synchronization of estrous cycles over time.[1][16][14]

McClintock investigated the coupled oscillator hypothesis experimentally. She provided three groups of rats with airborne odors from female rats in three different phases of the estrous cycle: ovulatory phase, follicular phase, and luteal phase. She hypothesized that ovulatory phase odors would lengthen cycles, follicular phase odors would shorten cycles, and luteal phase odors would have no effect. Her results showed a lengthening of estrous cycles for females who received ovulatory odors, shortening of cycles for females who received follicular odors, and no effect for females who received luteal phase odors.[16]

The coupled-ocillator hypothesis was also investigated using a computer simulation model,[14] which was compared with data from McClintock's 1978 study.[1] They found that a coupled oscillator mechanism could produce estrous synchrony in female rats, but the effect was very weak.[14] The proposed mechanisms of this model were more precisely tested by controlling the airborne odors received by individual females.[17] They found support for the hypothesis that follicular phase odors short the length of estrous cycles, but they did not find that ovulatory phase odors lengthened cycles[17] as the earlier study by McClintock had found.[16]

Schank conducted another experiment to test whether female rats could synchronize their cycles.[6] He found that female rats did not synchronize their cycles and he argued that in the original McClintock study,[1] the random control group was more asynchronous than expected by chance. When the experimental group was compared to the control group in McClintock's 1978 study,[1] the experimental group was more synchronous than the control group but only because the control group was too asynchronous and not because the experimental group had synchronized their cycles. In a follow-up study, Schank again found not effect of estrous synchrony in rats.[9]


In 1980, estrous synchrony was reported in female hamsters. In their study, hamsters were housed in four colony phase of the estrous cycle. They monitored and females in each room and removed the females that did not stay in phase. They placed a wire metal cage (i.e., condo consisting of four equally sized rectangular compartments) in the corner of each room. For each room, three animals were randomly selected and placed in three of the condo compartments. A fourth female was randomly selected from another room and placed in the remaining condo compartment. In the control condition, all four females placed in the condos came from the same room. Females were kept in the condos until all four animals exhibited 4 consecutive days of synchrony. They were then removed and a new group was formed until all combinations were tested. They found that the fourth female in the experimental condition always synchronized with the remaining three[2]

Their study was criticized as methodologically flawed because females were left together until the fourth female synchronized with the others. When female hamsters are subjected to the stress of stranger hamsters, their cycles become irregular. If only the female from another room's cycles change, then by chance, the longer the female is left with the other three, the more likely it is that she will synchronize by chance with the other three.[7] In a follow-up experimental study motivated by this methodological critique, no evidence for estrous synchrony was found for female hamsters.[10]


In 1985, estrous synchrony was reported in female chimpanzees. In her study, 10 female chimpanzees were caged, at different times, in two groups of four and six in the same building. The anogenital swelling of each female was recorded daily. Synchrony was measured by calculating the absolute differences in days between (1) the day of swelling onset and (2) the day of maximum swelling. She reported a statistically significant average difference of 5.7 days for onset of swelling and 8.0 days for maximum swelling.[3] Schank, however, noted that due to females who became pregnant and who stopped cycling, most of the data were based on only four animals.[8] He performed a computer simulation study to calculate the expected swelling onset and maximal swelling onset difference for female chimpanzees with the reported mean estrous cycle lengths of 36.7 (with a standard deviation of 4.3) days. He reported an expected difference of 7.7 days. Thus, a maximum swelling difference of 8.0 days is about what would be expected by chance and given that only four animals contributed data to the study, a 5.7 day onset difference is not significantly less than 7.7 days.[8]

Since then Mastsumoto and colleagues have reported estrous asynchrony in groups of free-living chimpanzees in Mahale Mountains National Park, Tanzania.[11][12] They subsequently investigated whether estrous asynchrony was adaptive for female chimpanzees. They tested three hypotheses about the adaptiveness of estrous asynchrony: (1) females become asynchronous to increase copulation frequency and opportunities for giving birth; (2) paternity confusion to reduce infanticide; and (3) sperm competition. They found no support for hypothesis (1) and partial support for hypotheses (2) and (3).[18]

Golden lion tamarinsEdit

In 1987, estrous synchrony was reported in female golden lion tamarins by French and Stribley. Their consisted of five adult female golden lion tamarins that were housed in two groups. Two females were housed with adult males and three females (a mother and two daughters) were housed with an adult male and infant male. They reported a 2.11 day difference in peak cycle estrogen for the two groups, which was less than the 4.5 day difference that they calculated would be the difference based on golden lion tamarins having a 19-day estrous cycle.[4] Schank reanalyzed their study with the help of computer simulation and reported that a 2.11 day difference was not likely statistically significant.[8] Monfort and colleagues conducted a study with eight females housed in pairs and found no evidence of synchrony.[13]


Setchella, Kendala, and Tyniec investigated whether menstrual synchrony occurred in a semi-free-ranging population of mandrills of 10-group years. They reported that mandrills do not synchronize their menstrual cycles and concluded that cycle synchrony does not occur in non-human primates.[19]

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 (1978). Estrous synchrony and its mediation by Airborne chemical communication (Rattus norvegicus). Hormones and Behavior 10 (3): 264–75.
  2. 2.0 2.1 (1980). Social dominance determines estrous entrainment among female hamsters. Hormones and Behavior 14 (2): 107–15.
  3. 3.0 3.1 (1985). Synchrony of estrous swelling in captive group-living chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). International Journal of Primatology 6 (3): 335–50.
  4. 4.0 4.1 (1987). Synchronization of ovarian cycles within and between social groups in golden lion tamarins (Leontopithecus rosalia). American Journal of Primatology 12 (4): 469–78.
  5. (2008). Female reproductive synchrony predicts skewed paternity across primates. Behavioral Ecology 19 (6): 1150–1158.
  6. 6.0 6.1 (2001). Do Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) synchronize their estrous cycles?. Physiology & Behavior 72.
  7. 7.0 7.1 (2000). Can Pseudo Entrainment Explain the Synchrony of Estrous Cycles among Golden Hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus)?. Hormones and Behavior 38 (2): 94–101.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 (2001). Measurement and cycle variability: Reexamining the case for ovarian-cycle synchrony in primates. Behavioural Processes 56 (3): 131–146.
  9. 9.0 9.1 (2001). Oestrous and birth synchrony in Norway rats, Rattus norvegicus. Animal Behaviour 62 (3): 409–75.
  10. 10.0 10.1 (2002). Asynchrony in the Estrous Cycles of Golden Hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus). Hormones and Behavior 42 (1): 70–7.
  11. 11.0 11.1 (2005). Proximity and estrous synchrony in Mahale chimpanzees. American Journal of Primatology 66 (2): 159–66.
  12. 12.0 12.1 (2007). Estrus cycle asynchrony in wild female chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 61 (5): 661–8.
  13. 13.0 13.1 (1996). Natural and induced ovarian synchrony in golden lion tamarins (Leontopithecus rosalia). Biology of Reproduction 55 (4): 875–82.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 (1992). A coupled-oscillator model of ovarian-cycle synchrony among female rats. Journal of Theoretical Biology 157 (3): 317–62.
  15. (1981). Social Control of the Ovarian Cycle and the Function of Estrous Synchrony. Integrative and Comparative Biology 21: 243–56.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 (1984). Estrous synchrony: Modulation of ovarian cycle length by female pheromones. Physiology & Behavior 32 (5): 701–5.
  17. 17.0 17.1 (1997). Ovulatory Pheromone Shortens Ovarian Cycles of Female Rats Living in Olfactory Isolation. Physiology & Behavior 62 (4): 899–904.
  18. (2011). Estrous asynchrony causes low birth rates in wild female chimpanzees. American Journal of Primatology 73 (2): 180–8.
  19. (2011). Do non-human primates synchronise their menstrual cycles? A test in mandrills. Psychoneuroendocrinology 36 (1): 51–9.

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