Science!: Sperm Battles And Bad Fathers

Lauren Admire | 22 Mar 2010 21:00

Male Pipefish Can Abort Their Children for Sexier Mate

The male pipefish is one of the few species that take over the burden of pregnancy for the female. However, he will willingly abort the eggs and absorb their nutrients in order to mate with a larger - and thus more attractive, female pipefish.

It had been previously believed that pipefish abandoned their brood for sustenance, and only during times of malnourishment. However, in a new experiment conducted by a research team at Texas A&M University, males were far more likely to keep the eggs that resulted from mating with a larger female. This is likely because larger females are able to produce higher-quality eggs. I guess when you're carrying as many as 40 eggs on your body, you'd want to make sure they were worth the effort.

"When a male mates with a female that's not necessarily all that 'attractive,' instead of investing a lot in those offspring, he's recharging for the next pregnancy," explains Adam Jones, thesis advisor on the project. "He's absorbing nutrients or withholding nutrients from the brood so that he's ready when he gets a more attractive mate to invest more in that particular female's offspring."

It sounds like the pipefish is playing a simple numbers game. Unlike in most species where the female gets to choose their mate, in pipefish, it's the females who fight over the males. When the male pipefish has complete control over the development of the brood, it makes sense to mate with an undesirable female, just in case a better one doesn't come along. But, if a larger, more desirable female does cross his path, it's genetically sound to do away with the previous brood and try again.

Wait-we are still talking about fish, right?

Source:National Geographic


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