Male fish turn to cannibalism when uncertain of paternity

Jan 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: 221 new species described by the California Academy of Sciences in 2014

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study shows starving mantis females attract more males

Dec 17, 2014

A study done by Katherine Barry an evolutionary biologist with Macquarie University in Australia has led to the discovery that a certain species of female mantis attracts more males when starving, then do ...

Recommended for you

Ninety-eight new beetle species discovered in Indonesia

3 hours ago

Ninety-eight new species of the beetle genus Trigonopterus have been described from Java, Bali and other Indonesian islands. Museum scientists from Germany and their local counterparts used an innovative approa ...

Bacteria are wishing you a Merry Xmas

3 hours ago

A bacterium has been used to wish people a Merry Xmas. Grown by Dr Munehiro Asally, an Assistant Professor at the University of Warwick, the letters used to spell MERRY XMAS are made of Bacillus subtilis, ...

Pragmatic approach to saving what can be saved

3 hours ago

How can biodiversity be preserved in a world in which traditional ecosystems are increasingly being displaced by "man-made nature"? Biologists at the TU Darmstadt and ETH Zurich have developed a new concept ...

User comments : 0

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.