Planet Earth

When Male Stickleback Fish Refuse to Ask for Directions

DiscoblogBy Joseph CalamiaSep 9, 2010 2:48 AM


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The ninespine stickleback can communicate with fish friends to figure out the best places to eat, but one thing seems to make otherwise social males disregard the group: sex. Two researchers have found that, as these male fish prepare to breed, they ignore the group and go off alone to explore their environment in the hunt for food. At the same time, egg-bearing female fish do the opposite, sticking more closely to the pack and copying others' behaviors to find food. The researchers from the University of St. Andrews published these findings today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society Series B. They suspect that staying with the group helps save the females from predators and conserve their energy, while venturing out alone might help males find other food sources more efficiently. Coauthor Kevin Laland explains:

"While copying others is less risky, it can also be less accurate, compared to collecting firsthand information. The hormonal changes that cause a male to enter his reproductive phase may also be responsible for this transition to more antisocial behaviour.”

Mike Webster of the University of St. Andrews, who coauthored the study with Laland, invoked the clichéd male driver refusing to ask for directions--but with a twist.

"We are all familiar with the stereotype of males refusing to ask for directions--this might apply to fish too, but only when they are preparing to breed."

Related content: Discoblog: Prozac Ocean: Fish Absorb Our Drugs, and Suffer For It Discoblog: Bizarro Animal Sex Story of the Day Discoblog: Charge by the Hour? Scottish Volunteers Build Mating Motel for Frogs DISCOVER: Ladies’ Night in Animal KingdomImage: Press Office, University of St Andrews

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