May 21 2010

Male antelopes lie to increase their chances of having sex

Replace “antelopes” with “humans” and I think most of us would nod in agreement. But this is the first time researchers have found “intentionally misleading behavior in animals for the explicit purposes of mating.” Ars Technica has a great overview of the study:

The four-year study looked at the behavior of topi antelopes (Damaliscus lunatus) in the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. This area is dominated by a huge number of predators, including lions, cheetahs, leopards, and hyenas, all of which prey regularly on antelopes. When topi detect a predator nearby, they often make snort-like alarm calls.

From February to March, male topi hold small territories through which receptive females pass to assess each male’s mating potential. The authors noticed that, while a female in estrus was on a male’s territory, the male would sometimes emit alarm calls, even in the complete absence of a predator. These false alarms are acoustically indistinguishable from true alarm snorts.

The authors set out to determine whether these false alarm snorts are simply predator detection errors, or if they function to deter the female from leaving the territory in order to secure more mating opportunities with her. The results overwhelmingly supported the authors’ “sexual deception hypothesis.” False alarms almost never occurred without a receptive female on the territory, the onset of the false snorts was highly correlated with a female’s attempts to leave the territory, and, after emitting a false snort, males managed an average of 2.8 extra booty calls.

You may be wondering why females continue to fall for the lies of males. If this behavior evolved, you think females would also evolve to detect lies, right? It boils down to probability and consequences: Lies happen a lot less frequently than truthful signals, and believing a lie has less severe consequences (mating with a less desirable male) than ignoring a true signal (getting eaten).

This questions comes up a lot when you’re discussing dishonest signaling, which actually happens more than you would think in nature. One of the more popular example is bluffing in fiddler crabs. Sometimes when a fiddler crab loses its enlarged claw, it will grow back a weaker, cheaper claw. While these claws aren’t as good in fighting, they’re just as good at intimidating other crabs. It’s not worthwhile for crabs to check and see if another crab is bluffing, because the consequences of the signal being true are so large (getting the crap kicked out of your crabby self).

Still, it’s very interesting that they’ve now documented this type of bluffing specifically in regards to sex. I have a feeling we’ll see more examples of this in the future, now that researchers will be keeping their eyes open!

(Via Carnal Nation)


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  1. 1

    Insert ‘I love you’ for ‘snort-like alarm’ and I wonder if the 2.8 extra booty calls is still valid.

  2. 2
    Scott Jones

    So, is ‘booty call’ the officially accepted unit of measure for copulation?Though ‘fuck’ seems a lot more concise and useful for a unit. I’m measuring 1.2 Gigafucks!

  3. 3

    The antelope version of “baby, it’s not safe for you to go home alone.” Heh…

  4. 4
    Lisa M. Hayes

    I remember seeing smaller male cuttlefish changing their colors to look like females so they could slip past the larger males and get into the harem… I thought that was cool.

  5. 5

    Yikes, this sounds a lot like similar behaviors in humans. But obviously the similarities are only superficial, because the antelope male’s’ behavior evolved, but human males are just being jerks and rationalize it as “evolutionary psychology”.

  6. 6

    I had heard a decade or so ago that a study showed male chimpanzees pretending to have food to lure a female over with the promise of food and then have sex with them. That seems much more related to humans, but this is still interesting.

  7. 7

    For some odd reason, my mating opportunities have not increased, but in fact decreased, when, at a crowded bar, I have yelled “Oh my God, there’s a lion over there!” Maybe, my tone is off……Maami Wata

  8. 8

    Wait? A single lie gets an average of 2.8 more rolls on the prairie? I gotta start thinking up better lies!

  9. 9

    Here in Nigeria, our antelopes never lie. In fact our entire country has a deeply rooted tendancy for honest and fair dealings.If only I could find a lovely atheist woman with a valid bank account, perhaps I could be convinced to emigrate along with the 21.6 million Euros I was able to procure during the recent government upheaval.Please tell me if you know of anyone who can help me.

  10. 10

    …This makes me giggle. “ONE-POINT TWENTY-ONE GIGAFUCKS?!”

  11. 11

    You obviously need to add “Get in the car!” to your line. And also be inside the car.

  12. 12

    I love this story. It makes me feel less guilty about lying. I would recommend Jared Diamond’s earlier work, “Why Sex Is Fun” to anyone who want to learn about human sexuality in a similar perspective.

  13. 13

    Of course it works. Isn’t that why guys take girls out to scary movies.

  14. 14
    Scott Jones

    On the note of lying, I’ve also read about robots built to learn and interact with their fellow robots quickly developed the concept of lying. There were ‘food’ dots that would be placed on the floor, and when the robots found them they were told to beep to tell others they had found food so it could be shared.Quickly the robots would learn now to beep and keep the food all to themselves, or even beep when they haven’t found food to attract their fellow robots away from the actual food, giving them a chance to get at it.

  15. 15

    I just saw the same thing in the BBC’s “Life” series with David Attenborough.

  16. 16

    So, Antelopes evolved but human males were created Ex Nihilo? Did human females evolve? What about Crocoduck?

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