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Guppies, mating and the social group

By Ines Morales - 08 Dec 2011 14:22:0 GMT
Guppies, mating and the social group

Guppy via Shutterstock

In case you have ever doubted it, girl guppies are really smart - and now we have scientific proof. A recent study from the universities of Exeter and Copenhagen examined the mating behavior of the Trinidadian guppy, a species of freshwater fish you might know very well if you're one of those people who like to keep aquariums at home.

Focusing on a group of guppies originally from the Aripo River in the island of Trinidad, the scientists looked at the females' reactions to male advances, as well as their choice of girlfriends. The results were very interesting.

As it turns out, while male guppies are sort of obsessed with sex, female guppies are only willing to mate for a few days on a monthly basis. The rest of the time they prefer to be left alone, thank you very much. Male guppies, however, rarely ever get the message and they keep harassing the females, sometimes even costing them a good meal or landing them in trouble with some bigger fish or another. So, who could blame the females if they have come up with a creative way to discourage the males?

The strategy is very simple - and yet ingenious. Imagine a female guppy has already had their fill of sexual activity for the month, but she's still attractive to any number of males who won't let her be. So, she identifies those other female guppies around who are still willing to mate, and she hangs out with them. The idea is that the sex-crazed male guppies will be drawn to those females in the group with the highest level of appropriate hormones - converted into chemical signals that are transmitted through the water - and thus they will ignore our abstinent guppy, something they would definitely not do if she were swimming about all on her own.

Besides the obvious resourcefulness of female guppies in directing their own lives and keeping unwanted visitors at bay, the observations and choices involved in all this process indicate that guppies are very much aware of the particularities of their social environment - what the neighbor is doing in her private time, who in the vicinity could either be an annoyance or prove helpful in a given situation, that sort of thing - and also quite adept at manipulating it.

Yet another nail on the coffin of the human species' supposedly superior intelligence, if you ask me. We should probably start rethinking the paradigm - not to mention our proper place in this planet.

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Topics: Fish