Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


For a male sand goby, playing ’Mr. Mom’ is key to female’s heart


What’s a little male fish’s secret weapon for attracting the lady fish? Something some guys but few other males in the animal kingdom have thought of: It acts like a good dad.

Sand gobies, small fish native to the European coast, are among about 20 percent of fish families worldwide that display some form of care for eggs or hatchlings. But in experiments reported in the current issue of the journal Behavioral Ecology, a team that includes a University of Florida scientist reports that male sand gobies work harder at building nests and taking care of eggs when females are present – the first time such "courtship parental care" has been documented in any species.

Some males’ behavior was even more dastardly. While the experiments showed all male gobies nibbled on the eggs in their charge, unaccompanied males not only shirked their parental duties – they also were more likely to gobble down entire clutches of eggs.

"We were interested in whether males would change their behavior in response to the perception that their future mating opportunities were different," said Colette St. Mary, an associate professor of zoology at UF and one of three authors of the paper. "We found this was the case."

Sigal Balshine, an assistant professor of psychology and specialist in animal behavior at McMaster University in Ontario, called the results "very neat and very novel."

Asked about analogies to human behavior, she said, "Being a good father is very sexy. This is almost a cliché, as it has become a standard joke that the best way to get women to be interested in you as a single guy is to borrow a baby or a puppy. Women obviously find ’caring guys’ very sexy."

As part of a research effort aimed at investigating the role of sexual selection in how parental care has evolved in male fish, St. Mary, Kai Lindström and Christophe Pampoulie, both of the University of Helsinki in Finland, decided to use sand gobies to test a theory that males would provide more care for their young if females were present.

Both humans and animals often engage in two-faced behavior. But the general rule in biology is that parenting duties conflict with reproductive activity, because males would devote their energy to taking care of offspring instead of courting and mating.

"Traditionally evolutionary biologists have thought that parental care is something that is costly to other components of fitness, such as survival, growth or looking for other opportunities to reproduce," Balshine said.

Sand gobies nest under mussel and other shells, and the males not only find and defend these shells, they also hollow out a space under them and pile sand on top to disguise them from predators, St. Mary said. The fish also use their pectoral fins to fan water over the eggs, creating a current of fresh, oxygenated water needed for them to mature.

In the experiment, the researchers allowed male and female gobies to mate, then exposed half the males to additional females, which were placed in a small compartment that allowed the males to see the females and "be in chemical contact with them" but prevented physical contact, the authors write. Some males were in small nests while others were in larger ones, a variable used to determine whether nest size also played a role in the males’ courting behavior. The researchers then compared the parenting efforts by the accompanied and unaccompanied males.

The researchers used a total of 48 male gobies and at least 72 females to test different combinations of nest size, female presence and absence. They filmed the males for 30-minute intervals on the second day after spawning. The results were unambiguous.

"We found that males fanned (the eggs) longer and more frequently, and did more nest construction in the presence of females and in big nests," the authors write.

Also, unaccompanied males in small nests were most likely to eat all of their eggs, the authors noted. Bigger nests provide space for additional mating, encouraging the males to improve their parenting appearances, she said.

St. Mary added that although the parental courtship behavior is the first-ever documented experimentally, a few other species have been observed doing something similar in the wild. For example, three-spined stickleback male fish fan their nests before receiving eggs, a behavior termed "courtship fanning." Also, some species of male birds and insects feed their female counterparts prior to mating, which could be interpreted as combining the twin goals of attracting mates and parenting, she said.

Although the experiments show that males improve their parental duties in response to the presence of females, the studies don’t indicate whether it actually pays off in terms of wooing females to mate. St. Mary and her colleagues plan to take up that issue in experiments this summer.

Writer: Aaron Hoover, 352-392-0186,
Source: Colette M. St. Mary, (011) 358-0-9-191-57800 (2-4 p.m. EST),

Aaron Hoover | EurekAlert!

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>