The pipefish, which is related to the seahorse, has an unusual way of organising childcare. In this fish species it is the father who takes care of the eggs, which he receives from one or more females and then looks after in a brood pouch on the tail, where a kind of male equivalent of the placenta provides the embryos with oxygen and nutrients.
The disappearing embryos have long been a mystery to research scientists, who have speculated that other embryos may possibly absorb them. Now Gry Sagebakken and her colleagues have discovered that it is not a case of sibling cannibalism, but of filial cannibalism.
"The male has about 100 embryos in its brood pouch, and anything from zero to all the eggs may be absorbed. In this way the fathers are able to use their children to improve their own well-being," says Sagebakken.
The article Brooding fathers, not siblings, take up nutrients from embryos is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society on Wednesday 25 November.
Helena Aaberg | idw
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