Male fish turn to cannibalism when uncertain of paternity

January 19, 2007
Egg Cannibalism
Mating, sneaking and egg cannibalism in T. sarasinorum. Credit: Photograph by S. Gray

A study from the February issue of the American Naturalist is the first to demonstrate that male fish are more likely to eat their offspring when they have been cuckolded during the act of spawning. Moreover, the more males that are present during spawning, the more likely it is that a male will try to eat the eggs when they are laid, as it is less likely that he fertilized them.

"The most drastic decision a father can make is to cannibalize his own offspring," writes Suzanne Gray (Ph.D. candidate at Simon Fraser University), Lawrence Dill (Simon Fraser University), and Jeffrey McKinnon (University of Wisconsin – Whitewater). "These results support and extend previous findings suggesting that confidence of paternity is a key factor in determining a male's behavior toward his offspring, including whether or not to eat them."

Predicted by theory, this pattern had never previously before been demonstrated. Studying Telmatherina sarasinorum, a small, colorful fish found in Lake Matano in Indonesia, the researchers found that females, who can be sure of their relationship to their eggs, never cannibalized. However, an increased level of cuckoldry led to an increased rate of cannibalism among males.

"We want to understand how behaviors evolve," says Gray, "and how behaviors, such as cannibalism, contribute to the diversity we see within and between different species."

Source: University of Chicago

Explore further: Tiny endangered songbirds given second chance at survival

Related Stories

Five bizarre fossil discoveries that got scientists excited

July 20, 2015

From trilobites to tyrannosaurs, most fossils are of creatures with hard shells or bones. These materials don't easily biodegrade and sediment has time to build up around them and turn them into a record of the creature that ...

Recommended for you

What are white holes?

October 9, 2015

Black holes are created when stars die catastrophically in a supernova. So what in the universe is a white hole?

Could 'The Day After Tomorrow' happen?

October 9, 2015

A researcher from the University of Southampton has produced a scientific study of the climate scenario featured in the disaster movie 'The Day After Tomorrow'.

Horn of Africa drying ever faster as climate warms

October 9, 2015

The Horn of Africa has become increasingly arid in sync with the global and regional warming of the last century and at a rate unprecedented in the last 2,000 years, according to new research led by a University of Arizona ...

A mission to a metal world—The Psyche mission

October 9, 2015

In their drive to set exploration goals for the future, NASA's Discovery Program put out the call for proposals for their thirteenth Discovery mission in February 2014. After reviewing the 27 initial proposals, a panel of ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.