Truth or consequences

Studies of courtship in the animal kingdom

source: Sharon Levy
New Scientist June 15 2002
starts p30, 4 pages long

Courtship can involve risks in the animal kingdom, for example the risk of attracting and being eaten by a predator. This is true for many species and animal types, including sparrows, frogs and fireflies. One view of why males take such risks is that the males that stand out most tend to be healthier and fitter.

Males may also use caution, for example fish which only display strongly at night, when females spawn. They may also use camuflage, such as frogs that sing by noisy waterfalls when predator bats are about. Females may also sometimes prefer cautious males. Female guppies appear to favour drab males more if there are many predators in the environment. This may be because they have to mate fast to escape predators, or because their preferences may change towards the drabber males. Female crickets also like long trills, but tend to favor males with shorter trills when they are in a dangerous environment.

There are males which seek to mate with females attracted by strong displays of other males, and this can happen among crickets and wax moths. Some male bluegill sunfish may have a similar appearance to females, and fertilize eggs in territories created by males which display to attract a mate, and which defend the territories. There is a debate as to whether such behavior is honest or sneaky. It may be that it involves a three-way allaince, with all three fish benefiting, the males and the female. The males may gain more mates in cooperation than they could almone, and they females may want both types of fish as fathers for her offspring. It may also be that the importance of a mating strategiy lies simply in its success, and honesty is not a relevant factor.