Ah, the life of the female giant Australian cuttlefish…males fight for her affections, and during the mating season she will have sex with 2-8 different males each day, with an average total of 17 copulations per day. She can be picky, too, and rejects most of the mating attempts (yet still manages to mate up to 40 times a day). It must be a good life.
Males have a rougher time of it, I would think. There are many more males than females, and so it’s a struggle to get access to one; the bigger, stronger males will guard females, acting as a consort, and use aggressive displays to chase off competitors. What to do if you’re a smaller, but clever male?
I know the answer to this one, recalling that when I attended DePauw University many years ago, they required all freshman women to live in a women’s dorm with rather restrictive visiting hours: the way around that was to dress up as a girl, which was much easier for the slender, smooth-featured young fellows than the burlier and hirsute football players. Cuttlefish are masters of mimicry, and they do something very similar.
There’s a recent short article with a very pretty movie of this behavior online, but it’s from an article in Nature from last year, and here are a couple of frames to illustrate what goes on. At the top is c, a big male consort, guarding the female. He’s got two competitors. At the top right is another big male, boldly swimming up to challenge him; he responds by flashing his tentacles at him. At the lower left, though, is another male, this one adopting the muted colors and demure posture of a female, sashaying up as if that gorgeous hunk of consort is irresistable.
In the middle panel, the consort is telling off the big interloper, while the the sneaky male is snuggling up to the female, and asking, “hey, do you want to…?” She says, “Yes!”
In the bottom panel, the two are going at it hot and heavy, while the consort looks on. It really needs a “WTF?” thought balloon over his head.
One of the strange things about all this is that the females really seem to like the sneaky males—they had a near-perfect record of sexual success, much better than the Blutos who try to strong-arm females into being sexual partners. There’s a lesson to be learned there, I think.
(via Thinking Meat News Blog)
Hanlon RT, Naud M-J, Shaw PW, Havenhand JN (2005) Transient sexual mimicry leads to fertilization. Nature 433:212.